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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Gold Standard In Search

With about 65 percent marketshare, Google continues to lead the mass search space. In the UK market, Google has over 85% marketshare. The marketshare numbers are not mere numbers for the sake of numbers - these correlate to revenue potential. It is estimated that Google translates each point of market share into about $100 million in annual revenue.
Peter Norvig, Director of research oversees about 100 computer scientists as they work on projects as diverse as medical records management and machine translation. In this interview he talks about the directions of search in Google.

TR: You claim that Google's accuracy is pretty good. How do you know how good it is, and how do you make it better?

PN: We test it in lots of ways. At the grossest level, we track what users are clicking on. If they click on the number-one result, and then they're done, that probably means they got what they wanted. If they're scrolling down, page after page, and reformulating the query, then we know the results aren't what they wanted. Another way we do it is to randomly select specific queries and hire people to say how good our results are. These are just contractors that we hire who give their judgment. We train them on how to identify spam and other bad sites, and then we record their judgments and track against that. It's more of a gold standard because it's someone giving a real opinion, but of course, since there's a human in the loop, we can't afford to do as much of it. We also invite people into the labs, or sometimes we go into homes and observe them as they do searches. It provides insight into what people are having difficulty with.

TR: Where do you see Google search in two to five years?

PN: You'll see integration of various kinds of content. We're getting into speech recognition and all the kinds of interfaces on phones, where you have a tiny screen and awkward keyboard. You'll see that gaining in importance. You'll see integration of our various properties. We used to put the onus on the user and ask them if they wanted Web search or image search or video search. Now we're trying to solve that for them and serve up the results in a way that makes sense.

Simplicity in thinking and good execution to support scale characterises Google and so ling as it sticks to these as minimum goals in all of its inititaitves - it is bound to suceed further.

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