Are Google’s query-based social circles the answer to Facebook’s Graph Search?
Not too long ago, Facebook launched its Graph Search, which enables people to search for things like “My Friends who live in San Francisco,” and My Friends who like Surfing,’ and “Places my Friends like.”
Imagine if Google Plus allowed you to perform searches such as, “People who take the same bus as me into the city,” or “People who like to eat at the Red Truck Bakery,” or “People attending the Dave Matthews Band Concert next Friday,” and creates in response a social network circle that other people might be invited to join, even temporarily, or who could join anonymously. Or Google Plus may dynamically create such a query-based social circle which it may recommend that you share through as you create a post about a music festival you’re going to, or a meal you’re reviewing from a local hotel.
The image above from the patent filing shows a query-based circle for a “Music Festival” and a query-based circle for a “Grand Hotel,” as well as a button to only display query-based circles in the interface.
How active is Google Plus? How active do you want it to be? One of the criticisms of the site is that its a ghost town, where nothing ever goes on. I can’t say that’s been my experience, but I can see how people can make those claims.
Would you like to see an activity stream that tells you when people you are connected to endorses something, makes a comment somewhere, downloads a song. installs a program or watches a video? Presently we see things that people want to share, but there’s potentially a lot of activity that goes on with the people we connect to that isn’t being reported. I’m not really convinced that I want to see a message everytime someone uploads pictures or downloads an electronic book.
A pending patent application from Google does describe such an activity stream, and I hope that if it’s something offered at Google plus that’s it’s easy to opt out of. I’ve seen enough of this kind of sharing at Facebook, and it reminded me of the kinds of activities I’ve seen there in the past.
On September 8, 2011, Google filed a patent named “System and Method for Confirming Authorship of Documents,” (U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 61/532,511). This provisional patent expired on September 9, 2012 without being prosecuted. A day later, on September 10th, Google filed two new versions of the patent, using the same name for both of them. Google’s Othar Hansson’s name appears on both as lead inventor, and the description sections are substantially similar, with a couple of very small changes.
The claims sections of the two patents are different, however. The first patent application (US20130066970) describes a link based approach to claiming authorship of a site, or being a contributor to that site. The second patent application (US20130066971) describes an email based method of claiming authorship (or of being a contributor).
The approaches described in both patent filings appear to be substantially similar to the instructions that Google describes in their help pages starting at Author information in search results
Yesterday, Google’s CEO Larry Page announced that Andy Rubin would no longer be in charge of the mobile platform Android at Google,, but would be moving on to new challenges at the company. In the announcement, Page urged the entrepreneur and inventor to take “more moonshots please.” Andy Rubin brought Android to Google in 2004, but I’ve been wondering since yesterday’s announcement if we would see a different kind of Android delivered by his hands.
Rubin does have a history of enjoying tinkering with robots, and that seems to be an area that Google is quietly focusing upon. Regardless of whether or not the former Android chief is involved, do we need to add robots to the list of science fiction type endeavors Google is working upon?
I mentioned robots in the post, Inside the Google House of Ideas: 2 Lens Glass, Google Robots, and Smartwatches, a few weeks back after Google was granted 2 patents that involved providing instructions for robots, and enabling robots to make their own decisions (as if the patent covered Asimov’s three rules of robotics). Last October I also wrote about a paper to be presented this May that describes how robots might use an object recognition search from databases located in the Cloud to learn how to handle objects while doing their daily chores.
In 2006, Google battled Yahoo! and Microsoft for an algorithm developed by an Israeli Ph.D.student in Australia. The algorithm had a semantic element to it, and advanced Google in an algorithm arms race between the search giants (one of which doesn’t even have a search engine of its own now). We’ve seen the technology described in terms of how it is displayed in search results, but not how it does what it does. Until now.
Google was awarded a patent this week that looks at search results for specific queries and the entities that appear within them, to produce query refinements. This invention is from Google, but the lead inventor behind it was part of a bidding war between Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft. In 2009, the breakthrough was made public on Google in the form of Orion technology.
The Orion approach involved both extended snippets for queries (three or more lines of descriptive snippet instead of two for some longer queries), and “more and better query refinements.” How this technology is displayed is described in a Google Official Blog post from March 24, 2009 titled Two new improvements to Google results pages.
As long as there have been search engines, there have been people trying to take advantage of them to try to get pages to rank higher in search engines. It’s not unusual to see within many SEO site audits a section on negative practices that a search engine might frown upon, and Google lists a number of those practices in their Webmaster Guidelines. Linked from the Guidelines is a Google page on Hidden Text and Links, where Google tells us to wary about doing things such as:
- Using white text on a white background
- Locating text behind an image
- Using CSS to position text off-screen
- Setting the font size to 0
- Hiding a link by only linking one small character—for example, a hyphen in the middle of a paragraph
It doesn’t do any good to rank well in search results if no one clicks through.
If you go to Google Webmaster tools, and see the list of queries a page of yours might rank well for, you might see some query terms or phrases that you want to show up in search results. Webmaster Tools will show you how many “search impressions” your page might receive, as well as how many people have clicked on it when they have seen it. So what if your page has received 10,000 search impressions for that term or phrase, but only 50 clicks?
One question you should probably ask yourself is if the term or phrase is one that is satisfied by your page.
Sometimes a query term has more than one meaning, and most people searching for it might be looking for a different meaning. For example, you create a page about Java the drink, and most searchers may be looking for the programming language.
When you perform a search at Google, and you have a set of search results in front of you, how do you decide what to click upon? How do you judge the page titles, the snippets, and the URLs that you see. How does Google decide what to show you? A little more than a year ago, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Pierre Far wrote on the Google Webmaster Central Blog a post titled Better page titles in search results. There he told us that Google might sometimes rewrite the titles for web pages when showing them in search results. The post told us that Google might do some changing of titles when those had generic titles such as “home”, or no title at all, or:
We use many signals to decide which title to show to users, primarily the <title> tag if the webmaster specified one. But for some pages, a single title might not be the best one to show for all queries, and so we have algorithms that generate alternative titles to make it easier for our users to recognize relevant pages.
Before we consider how Google might decide when and how to change page titles (in a follow up post to this one), there’s another question about search results that needs some exploration.