Google Says ...

An unofficial, unaffiliated source of comment and opinion on statements from Google, Google employees, and Google representatives. In no way is this site owned by, operated by, or representative of Google, Google's point of view, policies, or statements.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

Who wrote Alex Chiles' essay?

On July 1, The Google Blog patted itself on the back over an essay posted to GooglePages by a 12-year-old girl. Google Is The Center OF My Internet World is a well-written essay about the various features of Google that Alex likes.

It's so well-written that she reportedly got 106 out of 100 points, according to the Google Blog.

Curiously, Alex's other papers demonstrate a much more 12-year-old writing style. For example, compare Ties Shoes Bad, Bad, Bad! with the Google essay.

If you buy tie shoes you will spend a lot of money. You will spend an estimate of $452 in your lifetime buying 166 pairs of shoelaces! You need to buy new shoelaces for many reasons! Your cat might think it was a piece of string and chew it all up. Then you’d have a chewed up piece of string....

That could be something written by a 12-year-old.

Nine out of ten times when I use my computer I find myself interacting with Google’s products including Search, Froogle, Google News, Gmail, Google Earth, and the Google Toolbar. What do I like about these products? They make finding different types of information extremely easy. Google has different search engines that I use to find all the information I need, whether it’s a website, new article or an item for sale....

This could be something I might write. The sentences are longer and more complex and they make use of the conjunction whether, a word you don't often find 12-year-olds using frequently.

Google’s user interface (human computer interactions) is clear, easy to use and understandable....

I don't remember writing many parenthetical offsets when I was 12 years old, much less parenthetical offsets that make use of technical jargonese like "human computer interactions".

In addition to searching websites, Google also has news and product search. Google News makes finding articles extremely easy. Articles from all the popular news websites are gathered together and then made searchable. This puts all the news you could ever want in one place, at Google News. I use Google News mostly for current events homework and other research. Similar to Google News, Froogle gathers products for sale into one searchable place, providing “smart shopping”. ...

This paragraph looks like it may incorporate some original short-sentence writing with more mature full-sentence writing. Note the use of the offset expressions such as ", at Google News" (capitalized) and "Similar to Google News,".

And how many 12-year-old girls write about "searchable places"?

So, let's assume for the sake of discussion that, yes, an adult helped a 12-year-old score 106 out of 100 points for an essay. How many parents have helped their children with homework?

And there seem to be a lot of guys named "Bill Chiles", so it's impossible to know if Mr. Chiles is the Microsoft employee, the owner of an offshore oil contracting firm, or some other Bill Chiles. I'm pretty sure it's not the Bill Chiles who was sued in 1836, although perhaps he knew Nicholas Flamel and nicked some longevity potion before Nicholas gave up the Sorceror's Stone (aka Philosopher's Stone to some Harry Potter fans).

The point is, why was this essay given so much assistance when others apparently were not? Is this a bit of propaganda that fell into Google's lap, or is there something else to be said about it?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Google restores ad-free search: at a cost to us

Google is testing a new Accessible Search interface that incorporates an accessibility scoring (and filtering) into ordering search results. So far, I've noticed that framed sites don't seem to do too well, but table layouts are not necessarily the kiss of death. At least, I've maintained some top rankings with table layouts but lost rankings with frames.

T.V. Raman says on Google's Blog that
In its current version, Google Accessible Search looks at a number of signals by examining the HTML markup found on a web page. It tends to favor pages that degrade gracefully--that is, pages with few visual distractions, and pages that are likely to render well with images turned off. Google Accessible Search is built on Google Co-op's technology, which improves search results based on specialized interests.

The scary part of this revelation is that they are using Google Co-Op to help order the results. He said "technology", not necessarily "content".

People are already striving to manipulate Google Co-Op (and it didn't take long for spam to show up on Google Pages, either -- their anti-manipulation strategies seem to be about as secure and pre-emptive as a Microsoft operating system).

What I think is good about the Accessible Search is the fact that it helps people get away from the Flash-designed sites, the framed sites (yes, I have a few, but they are largely experimental), and sites that burden the browser with long rendering times.

I do have at least one picture-heavy site that ranked pretty well for its search expression, but the topic is not immensely popular.

Accessible Search will probably be less prone to manipulation for a while for two reasons: first, the criteria have not been disclosed in anywhere near the degree that primary search criteria have been; secondly, the target audience is relatively small.

But if people switch over to the Accessible interface to get away from ads (I am seriously considering doing that myself), Google may find itself transported back to 2000. I doubt most people would make the switch, but frankly I'm sick of ad-laden search results. If Google could give us an option to turn them off in their primary search interface, I would use it in a heartbeat.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Google says they don't let click-fraud happen

Shuman Ghosemajumder wrote on the Google Blog that a blogger who used selective citation wrote a "post made for an interesting read, but was unfortunately misleading".

The fact is that Google strives to detect every invalid click that passes through its system, and to prevent those clicks from ever reaching an advertiser's account. And Eric and many others at Google have discussed the problem of invalid clicks publicly many times -- on our quarterly earnings calls, at our Press Day, and in other places, such as blogs. Anyone who has followed Google knows that Eric, and others at Google, have stated several times that Google fights invalid clicks, that we've devoted significant resources to manage it, and that we take it very seriously.

I have no doubt that Google, Yahoo!, and MSN go to great lengths to detect click-fraud and deny the click pirates their plunder. But clickage is easily simulated by a variety of means and there are a fair number of people who openly claim to make money through click-fraud. I mean, there are forums out there were click-pirates exchange ideas and talk about how they create SpamAd pages (often referred to in SEO circles as MFAs -- made-for-ads) and how they have software click on the ads.

Click-fraud has been around for much longer than Google and Goto (now Yahoo!'s Internet Advertising service) have been selling pay-per-click ads. The earliest click-fraud I ever saw was conducted by people trying to hit the top 100 list on HitCounter's Web site. Those top 100 sites supposedly earned a lot more traffic from curious people who browsed the list.

Other early click pirates concentrated on boosting their banner ad revenues by generating massive numbers of fraudulent click-throughs to their banner farms. Some of them set up 2 or 3 pages that bounced visitors back and forth. Others simply wrote script that hammered the banner servers from multiple IP addresses (yes, if you control the server, this is possible).

Affiliate link farmers sometimes did this, too. Affiliate link programs usually include language in their terms of service forbidding such activity.

Click-fraud has evolved to a much more sophisticated phenomenon these days. While I am sure Google places an impressive array of resources in their battle against click pirates, they really are outnumbered and, in my opinion, they are being constantly outmaneuvered.

The old DirectHit search engine ranked Web sites on the basis of who clicked through their listings. Some people actually set up networks of servers, where the machines were in separate locations -- to mask their connectivity for traceroute requests, which ran software that simulated click-throughs on multiple listings. They selectively targeted both client listings and less relevant listings in order to bury competitor sites.

Click-fraud may still be used against Yahoo!, which tracks click-throughs in its search results. Click-tracking is not an efficient way of tracking user activity because it's so easy to create fraudulent clicks.

There have been calls for a pay-per-action advertising model, but it's not clear to me that such a model would long survive the determined efforts of click pirates to generate revenues. After all, it's relatively easy to write software that fills out forms. Link spammers have done that for years.

Pay-per-action advertising may have to incorporate captchas and other anti-spam techniques in order to be reliable -- but then, will users really want to do business with sites that migrate away from simple action selling?

Google didn't create the problem with click-fraud, but they certainly have accelerated the issue by making it easier for click pirates to steal money. It's going to take more from Google than simple assurances that they are doing something about click-fraud.

Looking for Google in all the strangest places

Just looking around, you'll see everyone talks about Google, but they largely ignore what Google says. This blog will occasionally look at what Google actually says about given topics and comment.