Category Archives: search engines

Facebook Questions: a friend-powered Google?

What if search results included only answers from experts in a field plus your dearest friends? Would it be cool to get human response from people who know the topic, plus the added personal ideas of your close acquaintances?

Facebook is launching just such a product with its Questions tab, now in beta. As Facebook explains, if you were planning a vacation to Costa Rica and wanted to know the best places to surf, rather than Googling it and parsing out the paid ads and confusing lists of organic findings, you’d simply pose the question inside Facebook. Facebook in turn would serve the question to users who have expressed interest in the topic, plus to your online network of friends. The result is supposedly human, expert and personal.

It’s brilliant on several levels. First, Facebook Questions moves beyond the Q&A formats of or Aardvark, because rather than drawing on a pool of Wiki-type enthusiasts, the questions can be served to any “expert” in Facebook’s 500-million-member database. Second, your personal friends are added to the mix — unlikely experts, but the real opinions you count on in life. And third, Facebook has unlocked a new potential data set for serving up personalized advertising (because it knows you’re about to surf in Costa Rica). The queries will be visible to everyone, so we do have our own questions about privacy. Facebook, who do we ask?

Google, sex, Utah and chocolate. We’re not making this up.

If you haven’t toyed with Google Insights for Search yet, get going. It’s Google Trends on steroids, allowing you to glean from global search information which regional markets are most interested in your products at which times of the year. There were more than 137 billion searches on the five major U.S. search engines in 2008, making Google a tremendous free database of market interest in products.

Take lingerie. Did you know that the highest concentration of interest in diaphanous negligees is in Utah? Or that the most frequently searched terms revolve around “plus” sizes? A savvy marketer, thinking of how to attract this larger friskier audience, might dream up a chocolate promotion. Google Insights then reveals the highest search volume for chocolate is in the month of December.

And voilĂ ! You target a Christmas holiday promotion for nightgowns in Utah that, rather than 50% off price, offers a free gift of chocolate to every online buyer. And instead of Victoria’s Secret super-thin models, you load your web site with images of real women in larger sizes.

Google Insights is worth playing with for your business. Godiva, call us.

Google launches future search

Say you’re a wine distributor looking to enter the Spanish market. You could conduct research studies of consumer interest, or pour over industry sales stats, or try to peer into competitor advertising plans.

Or you could just punch up Google.

Google has launched Insights for Search, which attempts to use historical data from millions of consumer searches to predict what people will want tomorrow. The service helps marketers choose advertising messages, predict seasonality in demand, look at geographic variances in interest (say, which areas of Spain want which wines), and even scrutinize competitor brand positioning.

Can Google search engines keep up with search?

Why would Google migrate from being a cash-generating ad channel to a complex research tool for marketing executives and advertising agencies? It’s likely a defensive move to shore up Google search demand. The world of search is changing rapidly; Twitter allows real-time search of consumer conversations; Radian6, SocialSense and PeopleBrowsr help marketers monitor broad networks of social media; YouTube is becoming an enormous search portal filtering the equivalent of 86,000 full-length movies uploaded every week; the Google Book Search project can search the full text of 10 million books. And big hurdles remain, particularly how to filter queries for video, the fastest-growing form of online content which typically doesn’t have searchable text or tags, or mobile, with 4 billion phones in the world filling up with apps that give consumers other ways to get online than through the Google front door.

Sergey Brin wrote in Google’s last annual report, “Perfect search requires human-level artificial intelligence, which many of us believe is still quite distant. However, I think it will soon be possible to have a search engine that ‘understands’ more of the queries and documents than we do today.” Predicting the future is one step. With Internet access becoming as fragmented and commonplace as wall electrical outlets, we wonder what the future holds for Google search.

Image: Sebastien B.

Want news now? Twitter’s search may rival Google.

BusinessWeek and Silicon Alley Insider debate whether Twitter’s improved search functionality may one day rival Google. John Borthwick has the deepest dive, outlining a strong thesis:

1. Google provides search among static documents, but fails to sift the “now web” — what is happening in real time in online conversations. When a plane goes down on the Hudson, social media sites such as Twitter are filled with news, while Google trails days or weeks behind. Just as consumers want new news, they also have an unmet demand for new search.

2. The web search market is growing mature and has only gradual increases in usage; but new verticals such as video search have grown extremely rapidly. YouTube (a smart purchase by Google) has turned into a major video search engine with 114% YOY growth November 2007 to 2008.

3. So what could scale big, fast, next? Real-time search from services within Twitter or outside monitoring programs such as Radian6. With 70% of all consumer time online now being spent in social media-type functionality — creating and sharing stuff — and not reading the web, real-time search is poised to become the next huge leap.

We wouldn’t bet against Google, but tracking trends in real-time is surely appealing for many consumers and the advertisers who chase them. Looks like Twitter has found a business model after all.

NYT tries to save your source material

And now let’s think about the big hole in our modern information society: Source documents. Google does a lot of things, but it doesn’t index the interviews or hardcopy legal documents or scribbled notepads that are the source of your online knowledge.

The New York Times and ProPublica plan to “launch an online repository of primary-source documents,” according to the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. A NYT grant application, submitted to the Knight News Challenge, notes, documents are the foundation of investigative journalism, but today’s newsroom is a throwaway culture. Too often, reporters gather reams of information, do their stories, then chuck rich source documents into a dusty corner, never again to see the light of day.

The DocumentCloud would let any news group upload source materials for public review, and potentially be expanded to include non-official news sources, say, you there, writing your blog. As the public struggles to validate the knowledge they find online, indexing actual source documents seems like a fine idea.

For a look at the power of source documents, check out the transcript of the NYT interview with Senate candidate Caroline Kennedy. It’s more illuminating than any possible reporter’s revisions.

Photo: S.C. Asher

Google minus Google

Timo Paloheimo of Helsinki, Finland, recently read a NYT article about Google becoming a media company … and decided to do something about it. So he’s launched the search engine Google Minus Google, which removes all Google-owned media properties such as YouTube and Knol from Google’s own search results.

The result? Search results more focused on information, without the chatter of blogs and news and video getting in the way. It’s all a rather pointed critique of Google losing focus as it dips into rich media and away from pure information, and perhaps even conflicts of interest as Google search results now begin pointing to its own media properties.

Better? Not sure, but we’re bookmarking the search site. Via Angela Natividad at AdRants.

Supercooking your July 4th

Search engines are getting more helpful and more intrusive. On the obliging side, asks you to type the ingredients in your kitchen and then finds gourmet recipes using your foodstuffs from around the web. Only have beef and mushrooms? Supercook suggests BBQ Cottage Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms, and cues you to check if you have the extra needed ingredients. is a quasi-helper, digging through Twitter chat to see if your name or key topics are popping up. Brand managers can use this to check chatter about their products, or competitors and your arch enemies can swoop in to listen on conversations.

As the world goes digital, everything touching the web becomes transparent. Bad if you want to hide a secret. Good if you like Bacon Wrapped Mushrooms.

Via Swiss Miss. Photo: Elephant.

How to search for sexy violinists? Don’t ask the Google librarian.

Google search results are now formulaic. The constant prioritization by relevance now means that any search topic is likely to turn up a main site, a series of paid ads, one stately Wikipedia entry, a news report, one YouTube video, and perhaps a comment in The Huffington Post.

It’s the knowledge equivalent of a salad bar: The best information, all lined up, ready to go.

But damn if some topics don’t cry out for spice, and here comes Addict-o-matic to serve up buzz. Addict is a bit like a spontaneous RSS feed, except with a beautiful layout that politely crams groups of web finds on one page, starting with social media first. You get blog postings, Digg raves, Flickr photos, YouTube videos, top news, and yes standard relevance-based web listings (but those are clustered nicely at the bottom).

We tested this recently with a search for Lili Haydn, a violinist who could be the offspring of Yo-Yo Ma, Tori Amos and Salma Hayek (if three-way genetic sharing were possible … hmm). Google gave us Wikipedia. Addict-o-matic gave us photos, videos, blog rants, and news.

Nice work by site founder Dave Pell. Found via Seth.