January 25th, 2006, 02:14 PM
Googling the Truth?
Web giant pours cash into race for discerning search technology
What does the truth look like? Google, the company last week confirmed as the biggest media firm on the planet, rather hopes that it reads something like this: WO 2005/029368.
That's the number of one of several patents filed in the US recently by the Californian internet giant. According to that patent, Google is for the first time planning to rank news stories according to their accuracy and reliability as well as their topicality.
Google, and its heavyweight competitors, are pouring billions of dollars and thousands of staff hours into trying to ensure that when you search on the internet, you receive not only exactly the information you want, but also information that is true.
During the early days of the internet boom, it was predicted that search engines would gradually lessen in importance as users latched on to their favourite sites. But the opposite has proved true, with Google and its competitors becoming the way into the web for eight in 10 web users, according to Ask Jeeves.
Google News, an offshoot that emerged directly from the company's policy of allowing its 2,700 staff to spend a fifth of their time on their own projects, links to 4,500 sources from around the world and has become a key source of traffic for the internet arms of traditional media giants. But it makes no claim for the sources' veracity or accuracy.
Now Google is looking to develop technologies that factor in the amount of important coverage produced by a source, the amount of traffic it attracts, circulation statistics, staff size, breadth of coverage and number of global operations.
A Google spokeswoman said the company did not discuss individual patents but pointed out that its news service was "evolving all the time".
But Jim Hedger, the search engine optimisation manager of Canadian company Stepforth, says that "Google is in the midst of sweeping changes to the way it operates". After the posting of the patents, he wrote: "It isn't really a search engine in the fine sense of the word anymore ... It is more of an institution, the ultimate public-private partnership."
The company, famously founded in a garage by students Larry Page and Sergey Brin just seven years ago and now valued at over $80bn (£43.8bn), recently revealed that it will pour $500m into developing new technologies this year alone.
It's not just Google that is pouring cash into discovering the internet's equivalent of the Holy Grail. Competitors Microsoft, Yahoo! and Ask Jeeves are also spending huge sums to employ armies of developers working around the clock to develop new versions of the complex algorithms that power search engines.
Charlene Li, a technology analyst from Forrester Research, said in a recent report that the search engine market was in a huge period of development and change. "As MSN launches its new search engine and players like Yahoo!, Ask Jeeves, A9 and a slew of startups continue to innovate, ... the market remains open to big shifts," she said.
Tony Macklin, vice president of European product development at Ask Jeeves, added that the difference between competitors was now "more about brand than technology".
Google is notoriously secretive about its algorithms - the online equivalent of the recipe for Coca Cola.
The company insists its only motive is to help users make sense of the morass of information on the web. But some worry about the cultural influence of everything being filtered through the Google lens, particularly if it emerges as the arbiter of "truth" on the web.
In France, Google's plans to digitise 15m books from Harvard, Stanford, Oxford and the New York Public Library immediately raised the kind of ire once directed at the perceived cultural imperialism of Disney. The head of the French National Library, Jean-Noel Jeanneney, writing in Le Monde, called the plans "confirmation of the risk of crushing American domination in the way future generations conceive the world".
But experts in search technology say that such objectors are shutting the stable door long after the horse has bolted. "The technology already makes quality judgments on things all the time - that's the nature of a search engine. No matter what they do, they'll always come in for criticism," contended Danny Sullivan, editor of Search Engine Watch.
Mr Macklin said the Ask Jeeves technology already contained a bias towards more authoritative sites for its results.
Mr Sullivan said another dimension would be added to the debate once search technology started second guessing users' preferences by analysing their online activity and even their hard drives. Microsoft is planning to put tools based around a concept known as "implicit query" in its next version of Windows, due to be launched next year.
"It will be interesting to see when they make that further jump into modifying the results based on your behaviour. People don't think about the fact they have a search profile, but they do," said Mr Sullivan. "You'll do the same search and suddenly realise it's different to your friend's because you've got different histories. It will be a problem for some people. But if it's useful, people will believe in it and use it."
As religious leaders will attest, belief in your version of the truth largely depends on faith. Google's company motto remains "don't be evil". How long before that becomes "the way, the truth and the life"?
January 25th, 2006, 05:10 PM
I say leave google alone, there is no reason good enough for me to believe that google should hand over personal information. Big brother can Kiss my White @ _ _ (you fill in the blanks). (hints for dummies: try S S).
January 25th, 2006, 06:04 PM
As users mature, they will become more skeptical of google.
They allow China to dictate censorship of search results, and I believe
that search rankings are for sale to the people with big bucks.
Welcome to the 21st century version of TV. It's all about advertising.
If France can launch "yet another" search engine, I would welcome it.
Just need to brush up on my high school French.
I came in to the world with nothing. I still have most of it.
January 25th, 2006, 09:14 PM
Google has effectively become "The Man" and I stopped using it as my primary engine years ago. It's a great engine no doubt, but I usually search multiple engines other than google when gathering information about something. Even though Google seems to be the most directly accurate in general, other engines tend to give me less obvious/known sites with alot of neat information.
\"Greatness only comes at great risk.\" ~ Personal/Generic
January 25th, 2006, 10:43 PM
Google is running a major double standard; it's seems that Google approves of Chinese "ethics" of censorship but won't try to help the U.S. with terror probes? I'm certainly no champion of "big brother" but gimme a break.
Mankind have a great aversion to intellectual labor; but even supposing knowledge to be easily attainable, more people would be content to be ignorant than would take even a little trouble to acquire it.
- Samuel Johnson
January 25th, 2006, 11:14 PM
Dang... I agree with rcgreen and Korpdeath on this one... must have been watching too much Lou Dobbs
Google.commie - I should've thought of it!
January 26th, 2006, 03:07 PM
I don't think anybody should really have the authority of saying who's truthful and who's not. There are so many opposing opinions and who is Google to say whos right and wrong?
January 26th, 2006, 03:26 PM
I only believe in one kind of Truth, Truthiness.
For those who don't know what I am talking about: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truthiness
Gotta love Stephen Colbert!
Sorry, couldnt help myself...
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
- Sun Tzu
, The Art of War
January 30th, 2006, 07:05 AM
Google.cn has some major censoring issues, I wonder if this is the end of "Do no evil" and the start of Google becoming something evil that we need to stop being dependent on.
Lets see what google services I use
- Urchin (Google stats)
- Google Earth
- Desktop Search
- Google Groups
- Google News
Think about all the personal data google will have on me, they know my address, emails, search history, location, needs, wants and a lot more.
All of this power in one location may not exactly be a great thing, it's downright scary.
Google has become too big for it's own good.
January 30th, 2006, 09:05 AM
you just had to ask.
If France can launch "yet another" search engine, I would welcome it.
\"America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.\"
\"The reason we are so pleased to find other people\'s secrets is that it distracts public attention from our own.\"