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July 22, 2003 5:17 AM   Subscribe

Google: the God that failed? is the title of the article on MSN Slate. All of us know Microsoft is working on a new search engine technology. Till date everyone considers Google to be the Guru. MS obviously doesn't like that, so what it is doing? Well, the same thing it always does - to survive competition, eliminate it. The reasons being given by the article are pretty silly and more aimed at 'faming down' Google.
posted by jayantk (39 comments total)

 
1. Google's good, but not God. Come on now... it's a search engine - a piece of technology. It's the friendliest one to use at the moment... But why the hell shouldn't MS try to beat it? Isn't that potentially a good thing - innovation and all that? Better results, more relevant answers? And the blog post sticking up for Google (conclusion: 'MS sucks') is just poor. Argument: MSN search is just as bad as Google's search on the aspects listed; therefore MSN search will never get better; and Google must be great because I like it and I don't like MS. So there.

2. Self post.
posted by humuhumu at 5:37 AM on July 22, 2003


Didn't realise I was in quite that annoyed a mood this morning. Apologies for the harsh words. Need more coffee.
posted by humuhumu at 5:40 AM on July 22, 2003


I cannot understand the following argument:
"More and more scholarly publications are putting up their issues in PDF format, which Google indexes as though they were traditional Web pages. But almost no one is publishing entire books online in PDF form. So, when you're doing research online, Google is implicitly pushing you toward information stored in articles and away from information stored in books."
Almost no one publishes entire books online in any non-googlable format. The fact that articles are available in the web and books aren't isn't google's problem it's the web's. What is Mr. Johnson trying to say?
posted by talos at 5:50 AM on July 22, 2003


M$ = shameless. Contrary to what the article claims:

a. It is extremely difficult to order a cow online

b. Google will accept more that one search term, like instance "apple fruit" or "growing apples"

c. You should not expect to be served URLs in a bookstore.

Note to jayantk: SELF-LINKING IS A NO-NO
posted by magullo at 5:50 AM on July 22, 2003


What a silly article. As an example, he complains that searching for apple does not reveal much information about the fruit.

Well, duh. Why doesn't he try searching for apples.

I'm feeling user error, here.
posted by Mwongozi at 6:05 AM on July 22, 2003


ahhhh... I could list all the ways that article makes me angry but they're all pretty obvious, so I won't. I do think, though, that the internet-using public at large would benefit from some educating re how to optimise their search techniques.
posted by nthdegx at 6:05 AM on July 22, 2003


Either this guy really has no idea how to refine his searches or he is being deliberately obtuse.
Or maybe he is just welcoming is new MSN overlords.
posted by Joeforking at 6:08 AM on July 22, 2003


I don't know whether to be cynically unmoved or mildly outraged by the notion that Microsoft would release a story on its purported news outlet site bashing its competition. At first it seemed inocuous enough, but then I thought: what if 60 Minutes did a story about how terrible non-Westinghouse appliances were?

But then I rememberd that Fox News exists, and that all my worst media nightmares had already come true, and my brain shuddered to a halt.
posted by vraxoin at 6:14 AM on July 22, 2003


Either this guy really has no idea how to refine his searches or he is being deliberately obtuse.

He's being deliberately obtuse, for good reason. You might be able to refine your searches without even thinking about it, but there are thousands of people plugging in modem cables for the first time who don't have that kind of experience.

And his points are basically valid. Flowers, car hire and hotels are the domain of commercial sites with Google. Getting data that isn't attached to a hard sell is tricky. Google is a tart. Google is a fashion victim. Google rewards repeated assertion across the rumour-mill over softly-spoken fact, soundbites over nuances. (That's part of Johnson's point about 'no book-learning'.) And Google's algorithms undoubtedly make its representation of the web more like a 'collectively authored op-ed page—filled with bias, polemics, and a skewed sense of proportion' than with other search engines. The idea that Google is being treated as the fact-checkers' friend for anything more than the rawest of facts -- addresses, spellings and so on -- horrifies me.

I don't know whether to be cynically unmoved or mildly outraged by the notion that Microsoft would release a story on its purported news outlet site bashing its competition.

If you're questioning Steven Johnson's independence or credentials, then you're showing off a naivety of your own.
posted by riviera at 6:25 AM on July 22, 2003


[Read Steven Johnson's follow-up: 'The point I'm trying to make is that all other things being equal, Google will skew results towards online stores and pages linked to by the blogging community. (And away from books towards articles, though that's a slightly different point.) You can make things less than equal by doing more refined searches, but that doesn't mean the skew isn't important.']
posted by riviera at 6:28 AM on July 22, 2003


I'm with Mwongozi, the person is either being obtuse or stupid. It's a rare day when I type in a single word and expect immediate results that are exactly what I am looking for. When I type in just apple, I EXPECT to see results about Apple Computers, and as far as the "dvd player" example ... had he bothered to add the word "review" to the query, he might have found what he was looking for. Not to mention that the search results on MSN Search aren't all that different on the search terms (vague as they were) that he used as examples.

And since when do I use a search engine to find information in a book and expect that book to be online in a readable format? That's what libraries and bookstores are for, or so I thought.

On preview: Riveria, when I first started using the internet, I didn't know how to refine searched either, but then I learned. How exactly is a search engine supposed to guess that when a person types in "apple" that they mean the fruit and not the computer? Or when they type in "flowers" they want to read about roses and not buy some? Do these searches on any search engine, and you will get the same results, so it's not really fair to blame it on Google. You still have to give the search engine more than one word to find what you are looking for.
posted by Orb at 6:31 AM on July 22, 2003


MSN search for 'Canada gives the folowing results:

1. Government of Canada (good)
2. Microsoft Encarta entry for Canada (bad)
3. Discovery.com 'explore canada' (with an MSN logo plastered over the top of the resulting page.) (bad)
4. MSN Canada (you're kidding me, right?)
5. Governent of Canad (again?)

Those who live in stone houses should throw glass, methinks.
posted by Space Coyote at 6:59 AM on July 22, 2003


shouldn't throw, obviously.

/Goes to refill coffee cup.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:01 AM on July 22, 2003


How exactly is a search engine supposed to guess that when a person types in "apple" that they mean the fruit and not the computer?

Someone in the follow-up discussion linked by riviera showed how.
posted by rory at 7:06 AM on July 22, 2003


Yet another salvo in the MS FUD campaign against everything they don't own.

Once they completely control content creation and content viewing, it won't matter anyway.
posted by tommasz at 7:12 AM on July 22, 2003


riviera: the name is common enough and it didn't click: Aha! this is the author of Emergence, an excellent book.
But still as is mentioned in the discussion of his follow-up, his is a critique that applies most search engines not just google.
Johnson states in the linked follow-up:
Here's a more real-world example of the bias at work, which is equally self-reflexive: search on "steven johnson emergence." The top ten results are either from blogs, Amazon product pages, or the O'Reilly Network (very big with the open source and blogging communities.) Now, Emergence was reviewed by the NY Times, the Economist, the Village Voice, the UK Guardian, and dozens of other major publications with huge readerships. But Google doesn't think those results are as relevant as blogger reviews. Now, I'm a blogger, and I love the blogging community, so I think in a way that this is not necessarily bad news. But it's hard not to see it as a kind of bias.
Search for "steven johnson emergence" in Google, AltaVista, Yahoo, search.com, AllTheWeb, and Teoma. Kartoo, finds similar (but unlinkable) results.
Nary one of these searches includes The Guardian, The Economist, the Village Voice or the NYT reviews among the top ten results. All of them include O'Reilly and blog results - most include Amazon results.
His criticism applies to all search engines not to google specifically.
posted by talos at 7:12 AM on July 22, 2003


Nothing to do with the post really, but I just did a search on Google and at the top of the page was an option to view the results as a slide show. Pretty novel idea if you ask me, though I'm not sure how useful it will prove to be.
posted by chill at 7:20 AM on July 22, 2003


"...but is the world really that much more interested in Apple Computer than in old-fashioned apples?"

Yes. Yes we are. Apples are fruit, you buy them at the store, you eat them. Real complicated, huh?

Apple Computers run an operating system with Unix underpinnings, are complicated devices which require devices and periphials and such.

Logic says I would look up something I don't know before something I do know. I know Apples, because I eat them. I know Apple computers, but there is a lot more options of things to do with the Apple computer than the Apple fruit.
posted by benjh at 7:24 AM on July 22, 2003


being deliberately obtuse, for good reason. You might be able to refine your searches without even thinking about it, but there are thousands of people plugging in modem cables for the first time who don't have that kind of experience.

I have great disdain for the "idiot box" argument. I am all for usability, but the computer is a tool, not a television. A tools usefulness only increases as your skill level with it and that takes practice and study.

Don't get me wrong, I don't want to make things hard on purpose, but it's not a toaster people.

I may just be bitter from my old tech support days.
posted by jopreacher at 7:32 AM on July 22, 2003


there is a lot more options of things to do with the Apple computer than the Apple fruit.

You've never had an apple tree in your garden, then.
posted by riviera at 7:35 AM on July 22, 2003


Apples are fruit, you buy them at the store, you eat them. Real complicated, huh?
Apples and apple trees are vastly more complicated than any computer: growth process, biochemistry etc.
I know Apples, because I eat them. Heh: I know computers because I break them.

It takes a lot more skill to grow an apple than to learn how to use a computer.
/derail
posted by talos at 7:40 AM on July 22, 2003


Slate and MSN are not the same thing. MSN did not write the article. Slate wrote it. MSN picked it up and posted it on their site. There's a difference. Michael Kinsley, who started Slate and ran it until several months ago, has said that MS never shaped their content. While it's always wise to be wary of MS, I think the poster is giving them a bum rap on this one. At worst, MSN said, "Oh, one of the properties we one happened to run an article bashing Google -- let's give it more play."

I love Google, but there is always room for improvement. That's not a comment upon the specific criticisms made in the article, but a general one.

If I had a WSJ sub, I'd post a link to the article they had last week about how many web-based businesses are frightened of Google's power.
posted by pmurray63 at 7:43 AM on July 22, 2003


MetaTalk.
posted by languagehat at 7:46 AM on July 22, 2003


You've never had an apple tree in your garden, then.

Trench-digging aside, Google's pagerank mechanism would just as readily promote a site about growing an apple tree if enough people found it useful enough to link to when searching for apple. Anyway, if I wanted to search for info on growing apple trees, it certainly wouldn't be too much to ask to search for growing apple trees perhaps. Now if I wanted to install a new set of windows into my house ...
posted by Space Coyote at 7:47 AM on July 22, 2003


The arguments Johnson uses are very poor. You want to learn more about tulips, but you're disappointed that you're not finding the latest research on tulip science when you type in "flowers"? Please.

You could always search on tulip production. Google is great, but it can't read your frickin' mind.

Also, I found lots of cows for sale. And it only took me 2 seconds.
posted by bshort at 8:03 AM on July 22, 2003


I agree with jayantk - this article is a howler. The basic strategy seems to be to take a rhetorical flourish - calling Google "God" - and then disprove it by reducing Google to being a search engine - one which, unlike God, doesn't read your mind and figure out that when you say "apple," you don't really want results about apple, you want results about apples. Lame. And typical of MS.
posted by soyjoy at 8:34 AM on July 22, 2003


We're wrong to think of Google as a pure reference source. It's closer to a collectively authored op-ed page—filled with bias, polemics, and a skewed sense of proportion—than an encyclopedia. It's still the connected world's most dazzling place to visit, a perfect condensation of the Web's wider anarchy.

We're wrong to think of Microsoft as pure computing tools. It's closer to a massively distributed bear trap—filled with glitches, gotcha's, undesirable non-functionality, space-for-let advertisiement, and a skewed sense of purpose—than an operating system. It's still the consumer computing world's most available rut to get stuck in, a deliberate repudiation of the Web's wider anarchy.
posted by quonsar at 8:43 AM on July 22, 2003


If you're questioning Steven Johnson's independence or credentials, then you're showing off a naivety of your own.

The last time I checked, being intimately acquainted with the reputations and credentials of authors who write about technology and science wasn't the sole criterion for worldliness. But I'll make a note for future reference.
posted by vraxoin at 8:52 AM on July 22, 2003


If you're even remotely interested in this field, you should probably have heard of him, is all that's being implied here. I happen to agree; Interface Culture was another swell book, even if I didn't agree with every word.
posted by adamgreenfield at 8:57 AM on July 22, 2003


Microsoft publishing FUD?

I'm shocked - SHOCKED - to find that FUD is going on at Slate.
posted by Argyle at 9:44 AM on July 22, 2003


Commented a bit more in detail in the Steven Johnson's followup linked above.
posted by jayantk at 10:36 AM on July 22, 2003


I couldn't understand most of Interface Culture, but maybe it's because I'm not smart enough. The author's verbosity didn't help at all. Many a time, I found myself yelling, "get to the point today, will you?" The book could've used some good editing.

That said, vraxoin is right. An appeal to authority isn't the best way to debate something. The argument is what's important, not the person making it.
posted by madman at 11:40 AM on July 22, 2003


I didn't like Interface Culture all that much, it presents some good points, but then gets all preachy about how humanity is losing touch with "reality" (whatever the fark that means).

This article isn't very interesting either. Johnson comes off as a moderately informed author who can write a decent paragraph and has a good feel for the significant topics of our age, but fails to present any new or deep insights about them.
posted by signal at 4:45 PM on July 22, 2003


The example of looking for intelligent information about a book is excellent. I sure wish there was an easy way to tell Google not to give me about ten million indirect links to Amazon + ten million inferior booksellers. Same with music, or any other product of the human mind that folks are trying to SELL out there on the internet. The brilliant sites that actually have something to say (also, even major media reviews) are buried.

Today, I was searching for some hotels that actually have websites, but the results were so littered with automated vacation-listing sites that a search for the hotel's name wouldn't yield the hotel's own website in the top dozen.
posted by Zurishaddai at 10:03 PM on July 22, 2003


The apple example is ridiculous. Yes, some people who have never used a search engine may put in single-word vague queries. But nobody is really searching for an apple. They're searching for types (or varieties) of apples, where to buy apples, or maybe even the history of apples. Putting in a permutation of any of those phrases gives relevant search results in Google. At least it did when I just tried.

I think someone needs to inform people that you can actually type what you're searching for into Google, not the single word you'd look up in an index or encyclopedia.
posted by mikeh at 7:25 AM on July 23, 2003


Another article on blogs and google.
posted by signal at 9:07 AM on July 23, 2003


I really doubt MS has changed their mentality.

in other words, fight them at all costs, except when they r going up against AOL, but now that AOL is ailing..

MS is the uber demon, bane of humanity

just look at the publication, the article - Ask yourself: Has MS changed their ways?
posted by firestorm at 11:00 AM on July 23, 2003


People, it is evident that some of you do not know the culture of MS

I will refrain from a long exposition...

but the person being deliberately obtuse, IS being deliberately obtuse

MS = AOL, except w/o a friendly face

they r both the most wicked of enemies
not that they r cutthroat and determined, but their shameless manipulation of new and ignorant people and their permanent alteration of the culture in this respect is terrible
posted by firestorm at 11:03 AM on July 23, 2003


You people are out of your minds about Microsoft. You think that all 55,000 Microsoft employees, most of whom are based in Seattle and India, orchestrated a campaign to chase down a freelance writer in New York City and twisted his arm so that a lighthearted article about Google on the extraordinarily independent Slate site would impugn the search engine and thereby promote MSN?

Are you all stupid? If Microsoft wanted to destroy Google right now, they'd (1) create their own, better search engine, which they appear to be doing or (2) they'd spend some part of the nearly 50 billion dollars they have and just buy Google and shut them down.

I don't understand how you can all be so rational (hell, even holier than thou, with your apparently extraordinary gift for mastering boolean search syntax) and then go off the deep end about a software company.

You nutbags.
posted by anildash at 4:28 PM on July 23, 2003


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