Stop Taking Water for Granted

Stop, close your eyes, and take a moment to think about your home, without water faucets, without showerheads, without garden hoses, and without toilets. We use water to drink, to clean, to cook, to grow things, to cool our cars, to do countless things that we often take for granted, because we have easy access to one of the most abundant, and most precious resources in the world.

Imagine instead that your only easy access to water was from a dirty irrigation ditch, like in the photo below from a New Mexico back in the 1930s.

A young boy dipping water from an irrigation ditch, to be brought home for cooking and drinking, in a photo from Chamisal, New Mexico, originally published in July, 1940

Or imagine that you lived in Washington, DC, and your only source of water was a backyard faucet shared by a number of homes, as shown in this image from 1935:

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How Google May Use Categories as a Search Ranking Factor

Does Google determine categories for pages and for queries, and can those play a role in how it ranks pages in search results?

Almost everyday, I receive visitors on a query for “bookshelf plans,” on the strength of a past post about Google’s plans for virtual bookshelves in Google library. Most of those visitors probably aren’t surprised that the page is about an online library given the title and snippet appearing for the post, but most of the search results preceeding it describe wooden rather than virtual shelves. My page really doesn’t fit within the same category as the others.

When a search engine determines whether a page is relevant for a certain query, it does more than try to match the text of the query with a page that contains that text, and looking at the links pointing to the page. A Google patent filed in 2004, and granted today describes how the search engine may try to associate web pages with categories, and queries with categories, and come up with a category score for each, to use to rank those pages for categories.

We are told that this kind of category matching addresses a couple of different problems.

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Does Bing Time Shift Search Results?

The meaning behind search queries can shift over time, with some results being more relevant at different times of the year, and others becoming meaningful seemingly out of nowhere.

Search for “Independence Day,” around July 4th and chances are you want to learn about the holiday in the United States. Do the same search around August 15th, and you may be more likely to want to learn about the holiday in India. The same search back on July 3, 1996 might have been about the Will Smith movie of the same name.

An earthquake in one part of the world might quickly trigger many searches for more information around the globe.

Search engines tend to be oblivious to those types of changes, or at least they used to be. We’re seeing more “news” items making their way into Web search results pages for topics that are timely and reported upon in the media.

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Google Patent on URL Compression and the Mobile Web

What may be Google’s third most important URL shortening service got its own web site a few days ago. If you’ve used Twitter, chances are a long URL made it hard to fit your message and a link within the limited amount of space available. You may have turned to Bit.ly or another service to shrink the size of that URL. Google brought out a limited version of it’s URL shortening service in December of 2009, and has been expanding the Google services that it could be used with.

But, there are other places where Google has likely been using shorter URLs for a longer time. For instance, there’s a good chance that Google has been using compressed URls for a while when performing Link Graph Analysis, so that it could consider more pages in a link graph of the Web at one time when computing things like PageRank.

Google was granted a patent this week on another kind of shorter URLs, intended to make the mobile web a little faster by compressing URLs to be displayed on mobile devices. The basic premise behind these shorter URLs is to increase the ability of people using mobile devices to access the Web to experience the Web more like people using desktop computers.

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How Google Might Automatically Insert Links to Google Maps in Web Pages

Will Google start inserting links to Google Maps on web pages when it finds location information on those pages? A recently published patent application from Google describes how it might identify location information on web pages, verify the locations found on those pages, and insert links to maps after finding and verifying them.

The patent filing explains that while many websites include an address or addresses for their locations and for the locations of other businesses and organizations, those sites don’t often include maps or directions to help make it easier for people visit in person. There are a few reasons why sites might not include those types of features on their pages:

  • Including a map or a link to a map might involve the payment of licensing fees from some map providers.
  • It can take some work to integrate a map onto the pages of a website.
  • Many of the maps available to web site owners don’t provide features that are particularly helpful to potential visitors.

I know that I’ve cut and pasted many addresses from web pages in the past into Google Maps to get directions to places I’ve wanted to visit or find out more about. If Google made it so that I could press a button on my browser, and any address information on a page would automatically link to a Google Map for that address, I would probably use that feature. That browser button approach is one alternative to address-linking described in the patent filing.

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Touring Google Maps

I intended writing about a trio of patent filings involving Google Maps, but ended up taking a detour. I might get to the patent applications before the end of this post, but I might run out of gas and not quite make it. The freshly published patent applications describe features Google may add to make Google Maps more interesting.

But if you haven’t been paying much attention, you may have missed a number of interesting features available already at Google Maps.

I started out my exploration of Google Maps by looking at the journey between where I live and Washington, DC.

A Google Map showing the route between Warrenton, Virginia and Washington, DC.

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