Google’s Streetviews Cars Learn to Read?

Google’s local search may be getting smarter one streetview scene at a time. A few years back, I jokingly made a robots.txt sign for my front door that had the following statement in it:

Useragent: Googlebot
Disallow: /

In the root level directory of a website, a robots.txt file containing those two lines would tell Google’s page crawling program not to index any pages from the site. On the front of a home in my small town, it might have gotten some odd looks, but that’s about it. I had expected at some point that Google would send a streetview car or two down my street, and I would have been able to write a blog post with a streetviews image of the front of my house with a title along the lines of “Google Ignores Robots.txt File: Indexes My House.” I ended up not leaving the sign up, but I’m second guessing that now that I know streetviews cars can read. :)

That really shouldn’t have been a surprise back then. I wrote a post in 2007 titled Better Business Location Search using OCR with Street Views which described how Google might use OCR to gather information from signs it takes video of for street views. The patent filing I wrote about really didn’t discuss how that information might be used, but it presented the possibility of its use. I suspect my real life robots.txt file would have been ignored back then, though the drivers of those cars had learned at that point that signs like “Private Street” and “Military Base,” were areas they couldn’t film.

Google was granted a patent last week that gives us a look at how information from street level signs might be collected and indexed by Google, and compared to online information about the same locations to try to “calibrate” and “score” any information about the places being listed in Google’s index. Here’s an image from the patent that shows at a glance the kinds of information it might attempt to read:

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Spoken and Visual Queries The Future of Search?

I’m on the second day of a trip to New York City, giving presentations at SMX East on both the potential impact of mobile devices to the future of search, and on how reputation and authority signals might impact the rankings and visibility of authors and publishers and commentors on the Web.

My first presentation was in the “local and mobile” mobile track of the conference as part of a session titled “Meet Siri: Apple’s Google Killer?” where I joined Bryson Meunier, Will Scott, Andrew Shotland, and moderator Greg Sterling in discussing the potential impact of Apple’s Siri and voice search on SEO and search.

When I read the title for this proposed session a couple of months back, I couldn’t help but start to draft a pitch to join in on the conversation. I’ve been carefully watching patents and papers from Google and Apple and others about inventions and interfaces that might transform the way we search in the future, and the way that people might share information and market businesses online.

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Google Patent for Pseudonyms in Social Networks

Google was granted a patent this week on the use of personas or pseudonyms in social networks today, with the patent originally filed a little less than a year ago. The patent explicitly points at Google Plus as an example of a social network that processes in the patent could be applied to. The patent doesn’t grant Google the ability to let people use pseudonyms in social networks, but rather that a pseudonym could be presented as someone’s name based upon their choices of who would see that name or their “real” name.

Screenshot from patent showing a user interface to create a persona
User Interface to Create a Persona for a Social Network

When Google first launched Google Plus, one of the policies in place was that people were required to use their commonly used names to join. After some very intense debate and discussion across the Web, Google started backtracking on their common names policy, and offered an alternative approach this summer.

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Google’s User Profile Personalization and Google Plus

A newly published patent application from Google describes how a combination of different types of Google generated profiles associated with a searcher might influence the results that they see. The description in the patent filing is substantially the same as some I’ve written about in the past involving personalization from Google, in my 2006 post Google Personalization Methods.

But I couldn’t help but think of the role that Google Plus might play in personalized search from Google as well, while reading through the patent. Is information from my Google Plus profile used in personalization? Is other Google Plus information part of personalized search?

My Google Plus profile, including information about where I work, where I live, and whom I'm employed by.

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Google, Electronic Textbooks, and Collaborative Schooling?

A series of Google patent applications describe the use of an electronic textbook reader application that makes using an electronic textbook a much better experience than just reading a book on a screen.

I remember lugging around a lot of books while traveling to classes on foot or my bicycle, or even while driving to law school. As an English degree undergraduate, I got away with buying a lot of my books for literature classes from a used book store (I probably left with a few hundred dollars in trade-in credit). Many of those were paperbacks that didn’t put a burden on the backpacks I wore out in those years, but many others were weighty volumes. Especially the texts from law school. I couldn’t carry all of my law school texts at the same time if I wanted – they just took up too much space.

A screenshot from the patent showing a electronic textbook reader application interface, including tabs for syllabus, book, notebook, and lectures

Google published 6 patents last week that cover different aspects of the use of electronic textbooks that attempt to capture some of the benefits of using real books while adding new value to the use of electronic texts. As the first patent I’ve listed notes:

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Google Scores 7 Mobile Location-Based Services Patents from deCarta

On July 17th, map API provider deCarta announced the release of their third generation Javascript-based Maps API. Around a week or so earlier, a Search Engine Land article noted that deCarta had been the recipient of a number of defections from the Google Maps API after Google had announced they would start charging for the use of their API above a certain usage point.

I noticed earlier today that deCarta transferred 7 patents to Google in an assignment reported at the USPTO as being executed on July 31st and recorded with the patent office on August 28th. The patents are all older, orginally filed in 2000 through 2002. There are still 56 pending and granted patents on the USPTO site listed as assigned to deCarta at the patent office.

While the patents in this transaction are older, they still likely be relevant today to a company providing location-based services to mobile phone users. They involve such things as sharing of GPS-based (or other technology-based) locations among users and even connecting users based upon their locations. Another patent involves triggering a location based service such as receiving a notification when within a certain distance from a place such as a favorite restaurant. An additional patent involves sending advertisements to people as they approach specific businesses.

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GMail Rank and the Importance of Good Subject Lines

Google is experimenting with including emails in your search results. Of course, the emails you see will be personal to you, and won’t be shared with others. The emails will only be the ones that you received via Gmail, and the service is opt-in only. The announcement was made on August 8th, in the Google Official Blog post, Building the search engine of the future, one baby step at a time

Chances are that the rankings used to decide which emails to show, and the order of those emails is probably very similar to the importance rankings used to display different colored markers on your emails in Gmail. One of the good things about those importance ranking markers is that if you want, you can search and filter your Gmail emails by them if you want, as well as using other advanced search filters. But we don’t know exactly if the search from Gmail provides the same kind of ranking and results as the search results you might see when GMails are integrated into Google Web search.

My mailbox sometimes gets more letters than it can really handle at any one time.

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The Google Rank-Modifying Spammers Patent

Google’s Webmaster Guidelines highlight a number of practices that the search engine warns against, that someone might engage in if they were to try to boost their rankings in the search engine in ways intended to mislead it. The guidelines start with the following warning:

Even if you choose not to implement any of these suggestions, we strongly encourage you to pay very close attention to the “Quality Guidelines,” which outline some of the illicit practices that may lead to a site being removed entirely from the Google index or otherwise impacted by an algorithmic or manual spam action. If a site has been affected by a spam action, it may no longer show up in results on Google.com or on any of Google’s partner sites.

A Google patent granted this week describes a few ways in which the search engine might respond when it believes there’s a possibility that such practices might be taking place on a page, where they might lead to the rankings of pages being improved in those search results. The following image from the patent shows how search results might be reordered based upon such rank modifying spam:

An image from the patent showing rankings of pages before and after the impact of rank modifying spam, with the search results being reordered.

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Getting Information about Search and SEO Directly from the Search Engines