Posted tagged ‘Google’

Interact08: Marissa Mayer, Live!

29, September, 2008

Google’s Out-in-Front Woman, speaking at Interact08. High points via liveblog:

1. 20 percent time. At one point, 50 percent of Google’s newer products came from the “20 percent time”–the 20 percent of time all Google staffers are allotted to work on personal stuff with no relationship to their current “real” work. Drives constant innovation.

2. Beyond the wiki: Internal 2.0 at Google HQ: Every Monday, people file their “snippets”–5 bullets of what they’re working on. All are submitted, published, searchable–transparent organization to share knowledge easily.

3. Behind the curtain. Shows a diagram that illustrates how a query moves from end user, through the massive Google backend, and back to the user. How? Via 400-1,000 machines! All in .2 seconds! Um, cool, in a hyperspeed 1999 way.

4. Castle-building vs. iterating. Instead of building the One Great Thing for years [as Apple famously does], Google launches products  “early and often,” driven by response to users.

5. How do you iterate? Use data to drive decisions. “Data is apolitical.”

6. So: Split A/B testing [n.b. a case of spontaneous generation; Amazon came up with the same technique at the same time]. Different users see different products or results, and the outcomes of these interactions drive future iterations. Great example about how subtle differences in vertical spacing had effects on search behavior. Also, via same technique: users liked blue, not yellow, boxes for search ads. Also, Google launched with 10 results per page. When they put more results on page to see if that’s the right number, searches dropped 20 percent. Why? Slower delivery of results, as tiny as those differences are, discourage people. And: Adwords succeeded because of immediate posting of ads.

7. Future of Search? One Saturday, Mayer kept track of all her searches that didn’t produce results. She showed a whole presentation screen to show all the failures. Among them: What is the largest city in Russia after Moscow and St. Petersburg? “J.C. Penney” near an obscure town in South Dakota, many dozen others.

So how will search improve over the coming years?

New Modes

Ubiquitous mobile–in car, wearable devices, eyeglass displays, watch that keeps track as you speak and produces results. You can embed search into everyday life.

New inputs–why can’t you talk to a search engine, or type in natural language? Why can’t you use an image or tune as your search query?

New Media

Google search results currently return 10 urls. Maybe it can produce 10 “answers”? Or: Now we return some video for proper queries [“how to do the charleston dance” query produces a video that shows you how]. “How to tie a bow tie” is better–the search currently returns diagrams and demos. Media needs to respond more to the nature of the query.

Personalization

The coming engines will understand more about the user–based on geography, past searches, personal preferences, who your friends are, other contextual information, etc.

Takeaway impressions: Google’s process of persistent iteration explains why they remain market leaders. The use of “20 percent” time drives the company forward. Mayer is brilliant.

Damn. I hate it when Google looks indestructible.

DataViz[zes] of the Week: Google Election Map Gallery

1, July, 2008

I’ve long argued that journalists use too many words. Or, more precisely, they try to use them for everything.

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When all you have is a Microsoft Word and a deadline, everything looks like a 25-inch story.

Google’s just launched Elections ’08 Map Gallery illustrates the limitations of this approach.

Want to know how John McCain got to where he is today? You can read this four-screen, tiny-type piece at biography.com. It’s well-researched and full of important information and fair-minded observations. Or you can click around John McCain’s Journey, one of several maps in the gallery.

McCain-by-Map

You will find a biography organized by geography (a geo-bio!), starting in the Panama Canal Zone (where he was born) to. . .1600 Pennsylvania Ave. (?). You won’t get much intellectually satisfying detail from the map–no Keating Five, no material about his days at the Naval Academy, nothing about his role as a “maverick.” If real journalism were poured into the framework, you’d have a great product that could reach a lot more people than the highly literate biography.com version.

Google, of course, knows from search. And so one of the more successful Election 08 maps is a geography of search queries by candidate name. [Earth to Mountain View: Hillary Clinton is out. You may remove her from the election maps now.]

Michigan Search Election Map

Others have reported this search query data in print–it’s a fun [if dangerous] parlor game to use search volume as a marker of public sentiment. But once again, a visual, geography-based presentation that offers real-time search data offers a completely different view of election dynamics.

And finally, a video-based map, which essentially does away with both words and numbers. Obama Videos is a map showing where Obama delivered key speeches, with each location linked to a video of that speech.

Obama Video Map

This is great stuff. With Google’s mashup tools being wide open for use, the gallery is likely to grow and get weirder [A Map of Lies! The Flip Flop Highway!].

I, for one, think it’s going to be a much more entertaining election season thanks to these visualizations. Will it produce a better informed, more engaged public? We’ll see. There’s promise that some of these maps will capture different kinds of citizen participation–the “wisdom” of the crowds writ large. The Election Search map is an example.

One map shows real-time election-based Twitter items geographically. It’s about as exciting as watching gum being chewed. But it’s a start.

Viewzi’s Visual Search: I’ll Know It When I See It

22, June, 2008

Let me be unambiguous: It’s Google’s world, we just live in it. There is no “search war,” no “game-changers” in the world of search. When the End of Days finally arrives, some bony finger will type “eschatology” in the search box, hit “I’m Feeling Lucky,” and the world will end. Google’s victory will be complete.

Happily, none of this is preventing people from doing some wily, aspirational things with search. The most compelling (if maddeningly flawed) example I’ve seen is called Viewzi, which has just opened itself to the public after a buzzy closed beta.

Short version: It’s a visual search tool that offers 15 [!] different ways to view search results. It’s a dazzler, a hum-dinger, a Halloween bagful of eye candy. If you’re a flash developer, a dataviz geek or a distractable noodler, you’ll find it irresistible. Viewzi makes Google’s results look like Braille.

Put a query in the search box, and a ribbon of blurry choices spreads across the screen: Basic Photo View, VideoX3 View, 4 Sources View, and more. [Note: Since this is an application built in flash, I can’t provide specific URLs to any of these features. If you click on the images below they’ll take you to a new search box. You’ll need to conduct a search yourself to see the features I’m discussing.]

Viewzi Mix

Below is the 4 Sources view, which presents screen shots of results harvested from Google, Yahoo, Live and Ask. I can’t understate the goofy pleasure I get rearranging and digging among these results. Bonus: You can see immediately which results the engines share, value differently, bury, etc. SEOers will dig it.

Viewzi 4 Sources View

But the most powerful–and potentially disruptive–feature is something called 3-D Photo Cloud view. It has a creepy, responsive intelligence that I find affecting in ways I can’t explain. It somehow creates the unsettling impression of knowledge accumulating in real time, of neural pathways proliferating as you watch, of an infobeing gathering power as it grows. [I have not been drinking anything stronger than coffee while writing this, I swear. This thing is freaky.]

Yakov Sverdlov, Viewzi 3-D


The Viewzi project has the feel of an open-source playground, a platform where search geeks and datavizualists can create new ways of organizing information visually. This may turn out to be the real value of Viewzi–a kind of Challenge X for visual search that inspires some serious bug-eyed innovation. [Or not: There’s already evidence of creativity being stretched thin over commercial ambitions: There are Celebrity Photo, Weather, Recipe, Shopping and TechCrunch (?) views. Can a FaceBookNewsFeedView (sm) be far away?]

Meantime, I tried Viewzi for some “real” searches I’d recently done on health, a recent political poll, an old friend from college, some tax stuff, a vintage car. Here’s what I realized: Most searchers are harshly pragmatic, unforgiving of excessive keystrokes and distractions. Google is perfect for the drive-by infosnag.

Viewzi offers some simple search views for mundane topics, the most servicable of which is the Web Screenshot View, which allows you to scroll through images of results pages. It’s slower and more annoying than Google, but it allows you to preview a source before you click into it.

So That\'s a Matador?

Google rules the everyday search. But if you have the need or leisure to dig into a topic and explore it from a bunch of different sides, Viewzi has plenty to offer. Block out two hours on Outlook and close your door. You’ll be awhile.

But if anything funny crawls out of that 3-D  Photo Cloud and attaches itself to your forehead like a tick, don’t blame me. I warned you.