Google Labs
May 21, 2002 2:06 PM   Subscribe

Google Labs is a public beta testing area for some pretty cool things they are currently working on: an amazing glossary, voice search by telephone, search results navigated without the mouse and finding additional items to sets defined by words you enter.
With every new feature, they seem to be getting even further beyond the competition. Even though Google is very likable company: is a monopoly on web search a good thing?
posted by c3o (45 comments total)
Even though Google is very likable company: is a monopoly on web search a good thing?

What's the problem again?
posted by waldo at 2:13 PM on May 21, 2002

I wouldn't mind a Google monopoly :)
posted by aaronshaf at 2:14 PM on May 21, 2002

Google would be monopolistic because they are at the top of their league through providing good search results rather than by barring competition. I have no problem with that.
posted by jackspot at 2:15 PM on May 21, 2002

This Google Sets thing is interesting.
posted by noisemartyr at 2:16 PM on May 21, 2002

Plus there's this:

I can't tell who owns the domain because WHOIS searches on NSI seem to fail, but the result page is the funniest thing I've seen in the past 16 days.
posted by willnot at 2:20 PM on May 21, 2002

I'll bite, Willnot. Why 16 days?
posted by Holden at 2:25 PM on May 21, 2002 registrant (from
posted by jackspot at 2:26 PM on May 21, 2002

waldo: Google and Yahoo, whose website search is also powered by Google, now account for two thirds of all search referrals worldwide - true, thats's not a monopoly, I was exaggerating there. However, I don't see any chance for the others to increase their market share ever again. And why should they? Google's results are just about perfect, and they're adding more features in a month than, say, Hotbot did in its entire lifespan.

But yes, a Google almost-monopoly probably IS a good thing.
At least until they get bought up by Microsoft. Mwah.
posted by c3o at 2:33 PM on May 21, 2002

I do like the glossary. I played with the random terms thing a bit and checked out some of the results. This is what it gave back for 'lace curtains', one of the random terms. I use that phrase to denote 'posh', sometimes substituting it with 'ice cream and wafers'. It sure is an amazing glossary.
posted by vbfg at 2:33 PM on May 21, 2002

I've said this to all my friends and they've kindof laughed, but I really think Google might be the next Microsoft.
posted by muppetboy at 2:34 PM on May 21, 2002

Holden - It just seemed absurdly specific which I thought was funny. Plus, six is a funny sound. Say it with me six, six Siiiiiixxxxxx! I know the magic number in comedy is supposed to be three, but come on, how can three compare to six?
posted by willnot at 2:35 PM on May 21, 2002

I agree muppetboy. I said the exact same thing, and they are the only company that I've said that about in recent memory. They implement simple functional powerful technology magnitudes better than anyone out there.

If only I could get in on the IPO, or a job there. But I suppose working for the current Microsoft isn't a bad start.
posted by tru at 2:43 PM on May 21, 2002

Its not a monopoly simply because we are not limited in choice. Its the most popular simply because it works much much much much much better then its competition. I also likes its culture, its openness, and its tendency to innovate like hell.

Google will you marry me?
posted by madmanz123 at 2:46 PM on May 21, 2002

Holden: Why 16 days?
willnot: It just seemed absurdly specific which I thought was funny.

Damn. So much for my hopes for a "really funny thing that happened during Cinco de Mayo" story.
posted by youhas at 2:58 PM on May 21, 2002

Sets are cool. It seems to work a fair amount of the time, given three or more items in a list. With only two terms, it comes up with some pretty hilarious results.

Glossary looks useful, but it would be vastly more useful if it included the dictionary definition on the results page.

Voice search is probably a nifty demonstration of voice recognition, but the dial-and-click interface looks clunky. Read me some results via text to speech!

The keyboard navigable UI is interesting. A noticable feature: the selection cursor bypasses sponsored results and goes directly to the real results. Wonder if they'll keep that? I'd rather just have a browser which had sensible key bindings instead, but it's a novel concept.

Monopoly? Google doesn't have one, it has market superiority. It does almost none of the things which define a monopoly, such as market manipulation. It's just better at producing quality product in a marketplace which was formerly saturated with eyeball-hungry blinky animated ad-plastered "search portals." Google'd have to do something pretty reprehensible before I'd even consider returning to some of their so-called competition.
posted by majick at 3:01 PM on May 21, 2002

c30: I'm not sure about the idea of no other search engine being able to increase its market share ever again. Think back about 5 or 6 years (I don't remember exactly) when Altavista was the mother of all search engines. Last I heard, it was playing 2nd rate clubs in bad neigborhoods, and trying to get into clubs by asking the bouncer, "don't you know who I am?! I used to be famous!"
posted by antimony at 3:02 PM on May 21, 2002

This is interesting. Looking at Google Sets:

Enter Metafilter only and the list is:

New York Times
BBC News
Christian Science Monitor
C Net
The Atlantic Monthly

But add in Slashdot and:

Dan Bricklin
Jeffrey Zeldman
simply stated
Scripting News
little green
The Onion
Something Awful
Tim O'Reilly
Photographica org
Wired News
fark com
Robot Wisdom
Obscure Store
PixelPile org
rebecca's pocket
The Register

(what's Amazon and CNN and doing in there?)

Limit even further:

The Onion
Something Awful
Landover Baptist <----- Huh?
POE News
Internet Archive
posted by feelinglistless at 3:02 PM on May 21, 2002

Google Sets is pretty cool. You can use it like; give it a bunch of artists/movies/authors/etc. you like, and it can tell you what else you might like. It's probably not quite as targeted as Amazon, but maybe that's a good thing.
posted by whatnotever at 3:04 PM on May 21, 2002

Google is no more a monopoly than Microsoft is. They're big. They're good. But there are alternatives. And you're free to start your own.
posted by dagny at 3:08 PM on May 21, 2002

I liked the first result for bill gates in the glossary.
posted by selton at 3:08 PM on May 21, 2002

The only problem I see with a monopoly is that if you want to have your site available (i.e. easy to find) you are dealing with one (1!) company. If they don't want to list you, you're fukt.

But am I missing something, or has this already been accomplished with DNS servers?
posted by zekinskia at 3:18 PM on May 21, 2002

Um, who's hogging the voice line? Get off. I want to tell Google over the phone that I'm Feeling Lucky.
posted by brownpau at 3:28 PM on May 21, 2002

Speaking of I'm Feeling Lucky - that's the one Google feature I surely wouldn't miss. In fact, I think its removal would probably improve the interface. Does anyone of you actually use that?

Thinking about other potential Google features:
Detecting pages in frames and rebuilding their correct framesets for the search results would be great (just copy the original frame sizes, replacing the usual first content page with the search result, so you have the content you're looking for AND the menu.)

And antimony, true. Perhaps some other university project like Yuntis will appear out of practically nowhere in a few years, better than Google right from the start. Sounds unlikely, but who knows...

(Alright, enough self-replies for today.)
posted by c3o at 3:54 PM on May 21, 2002

Speaking of I'm Feeling Lucky - that's the one Google feature I surely wouldn't miss. In fact, I think its removal would probably improve the interface. Does anyone of you actually use that?

Yes, as a matter of fact I use it quite a bit. Only a small amount relative to the "standard" searches I do on Google, (I'd guess I use "I'm feeling lucky" on 5-10% of my Google searches), but enough that I would be very disappointed if it disappeared.

It's useful once you get a feel for the types of searches it's good at. An organization or corporation, where it's not obvious what the domain name would be. A well-known web page.

Example: there are at least three organizations that go by the initials USCF. One of them is the United States Chess Federation, but if you just try "" you're wrong (it's one of the other USCFs. I know I can type either "US Chess Federation" or the shorter "USCF chess" into Google, hit "I'm feeling lucky" and go to the right page.

Another example: I can never remember the URL for the Astronomy Picture of the Day--it's not just a domain name, it's a page within the domain. But I know I can type "Astronomy Picture of the Day" (or even "APOD" !) into Google, use "I'm feeling lucky" and get right there.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:44 PM on May 21, 2002

The Feeling Lucky button is a smart marketing gimmick. It tries to show Google's superiority over other search engines, and in my opinion succeeds pretty well at that.

Remember when you first laid eyes upon google. That button was tempting!

But yes, I wouldn't miss it either, though I occassionally still use it. Whenever I'm feeling lucky :)
posted by sans at 4:44 PM on May 21, 2002

All these new features and not one of them provides a targeted cyber-shopping portal destination. What's the POINT???
posted by Dirjy at 4:48 PM on May 21, 2002

Like DevilsAdvocate, I use "I'm Feeling Lucky" when I don't remember a url but I know it will be the first result for a particular search. For example, whenever I want to install PuTTY on a machine, I can never remember the url (it's long and ugly, see?) so I just type "putty" into google, feel lucky, and I'm there. It's like that RealNames thing, almost, you know? An easy way to remember websites.
posted by whatnotever at 5:05 PM on May 21, 2002

i just have to say wow to that glossary, even with some weird biology terms... i want a google implant! ;)
posted by rhyax at 5:07 PM on May 21, 2002

I don't know, Dirjy, I'm sure "Google Catalog" is right around the corner. Punch up an item, get a list of places that are selling it online. Google takes a cut (I don't know, 0.05%) small enough to be trivial to the seller, and they'd still be raking it in. I would probably use it quite a bit, and wouldn't consider Google "sell-outs" at all.

Is this an original idea, or did I read this somewhere else? I have a headache right now, and my normally dependable memory isn't working as well as I'd like.
posted by Eamon at 5:31 PM on May 21, 2002

Google Catalog
posted by willnot at 5:49 PM on May 21, 2002

*lol* That's wonderful. Thanks, willnot.
posted by Marquis at 6:12 PM on May 21, 2002

I love the keyboard shortcuts, but AAARGH if they're going to use keyboard keys instead of arrows why couldn't they use vi keys? my fingers have whiplash now.
posted by hob at 6:56 PM on May 21, 2002

Thanks willnot. Sure, I feel like an idiot, but not as much of an idiot as I would without my migrane disclaimer.

On an unrelated note, I'm very unhappy with Google's definition of Ska. The first definition is simply wrong, and the third definition is only barely correct. I guess I'll have to figure out how to Google Bomb the glossary.
posted by Eamon at 7:15 PM on May 21, 2002

I tried the glossary, but my search turned up nothing. But there, on the bottom, was the Serendipity corner, which seems to be in the spirit of I'm Feeling Lucky - a random bunch of defiinitions. What a happy and unexpected discovery!
posted by jazon at 7:56 PM on May 21, 2002

"Feeling Lucky" is a really nice bookmarklet tool. I have a little toolbar button labelled "Lucky!" which will take me to the lucky match for any text highlighted in the browser. This is very handy! There are plenty of times when I simply want the single best search result for a term, not a whole page of matches.

hob: I'd be surprised if, when released into the wild, the keyboard UI isn't customizable. While most people are familiar with IJKL or WASD navigation keys, there are surely enough people who would use vi keys to make it worth the effort to offer a vi mode.
posted by majick at 8:06 PM on May 21, 2002

Is Google on a connected palmtop going to be the closest thing to a real Hitchhikers Guide in the future? I put the phrase "blind date" into the glossary and this is what I got back.

Just beautiful. Adams would have loved it.
posted by tirade at 10:49 PM on May 21, 2002

From the glossary:

traditionalist - Republican pagan

It certainly has that 'mostly harmless' vibe to it.
posted by ceiriog at 5:19 AM on May 22, 2002

Soon we will need a Google of Google to search through all these functions.
posted by none at 8:38 AM on May 22, 2002

Is Google on a connected palmtop going to be the closest thing to a real Hitchhikers Guide in the future?

That's almost what I said, as I got a wi-fi card for my PDA the same day these features launched. A PocketPC with voice and handwriting recognition and pervasive wi-fi broadband is damned close to a Star Trek communicator.
posted by anildash at 10:29 AM on May 22, 2002

"a real Hitchhikers Guide in the future"

The future? What about right now? There're already several ways to Google from the street. As far as I'm concerned, Google is the HHG in my life. More so than the real thing.
posted by majick at 10:44 AM on May 22, 2002

Hey, where'd it go?
posted by tweebiscuit at 11:44 AM on May 22, 2002

"Thanks for your interest in Google Labs.
The lab is temporarily closed as we deal with an experiment that got slightly out of hand. Nothing to be concerned about, really. All of our engineers are perfectly safe and there was never any real danger of it escaping into the wild.

Please check back in a few hours. Everything should be back to normal then and science will march on once again. We appreciate your patience."

Hmm, did someone put 42 in Google Sets?
posted by samsara at 12:01 PM on May 22, 2002

When I went (about half an hour ago) there was just a plain HTML document with the words "This space intentionally left blank." (On an ugly purple background, no less.) Man, I love catching web engineers working in real-time...

Anyway, what do you folks think got out of hand? I'm guessing that especially after the MeFi post, the phone system was going crazy with calls -- that and the fact that you can watch other people's searches.

Has anyone here read the Labs FAQ? This isn't necessarily prototype software, just toys that the engineers are programming literally in their spare time. Google is officially the best company in the universe.
posted by tweebiscuit at 12:06 PM on May 22, 2002

It was on slashdot this morning.
posted by ry at 12:20 PM on May 22, 2002

The link came to me this morning. I'm wondering: do the Google guys ever sleep? new, experimental features for the Google Toolbar have just been released.
posted by kchristidis at 2:25 PM on May 22, 2002

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