Farewell Google Realtime

It was good while it lasted, but without Twitter it is nothing. For two months since Google’s agreement with Twitter expired, the Realtime Search, and realtime results within Google Everything, have just dispapeared. It is expected that it will be resurrected when they feel Google+ can provide enough useful content.

Google Dumps Content Farms (without AdSense)

According to MediaPost, the new search algorithm over at Google has caused Mahalo and Yahoo’s Associated Content to lose rank, while eHow by Demand Media is unaffected. Obviously Yahoo’s properties don’t use AdSense. Mahalo has some AdSense. But eHow and the other Demand Media sites make a significant contribution to the coffers of AdSense. I suspect that the new algorithm has been tweaked so Demand Media sites are unaffected, Mahalo is collateral damage, and Yahoo loses out.
Google always maintains that their algorithms have no bias, and that will likely always be true. However I suggest that almost certainly the tweaks made to the algorithm will be tested against revenue, and the latest iteration will be one that on the surface shows a dismissal of content farms, while they keep their biggest content farmers on board.

There is an opening for a more-fussy search engine.

Maps is now Crowd Sourced

The new version of Google Map Maker lets you submit updates, edits, or other changes to a map—and once it’s approved, you’ll see your additions on the live Google map.

…With the redesign, you can add currently unmarked hiking or biking trails, rivers, or ball fields, and update existing buildings and landmarks by drawing your addition directly on a map. In this way, Google can rely on your map updates to essentially crowd-source its maps.
Changes will also appear on Google Earth. As they say here, spam will always be a problem. You can guarantee that someone will manage to use this system for wholesale spamming that will work for a while. Don’t be surprised if the crowd-sourcing (ie free data) gets turned off one day.

Aussie Minnow Takes On AdSense

Many, many, many thousands of Google Adsense users have had their accounts suspended by Google. 99% of the time it is due to newbies not managing to navigate and abide by the numerous rules that must be obeyed. That Google does little to remind you of them, and makes their discovery moderately difficult seems to be a deliberate tactic.
Why would they make it so hard? Well for most businesses 80% of the income comes from 20% of the customers. Big customers will put the effort into abiding. Minnows might not, and Google’s automated system will catch them out. It’s an exclusive club, open to everyone.
Which means Google avoids dealing with customer service (one of the biggest costs when everything else is automated) for accounts that make them next to nothing.
Unfortunately this means collateral damage – SME customers who missed a rule or somehow get to to be suspended unfairly. I’m not sure if Rusty Compass is a minnow or SME, but in Australia there is a law that protects it from bullying:
Mr Bowyer’s complaint to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission will accuse Google of unconscionable conduct – a legal definition that refers to harsh or unfair behaviour by a stronger party over a weaker party.
In the USA the only option would be to get a judge to define Google’s advertising products as a utility – utilities are required to make themselves available to anyone who pays their bills.

Secret Google Ninja!

This is a very elaborate Easter Egg hidden within Google. It only works if you follow the precise instructions:
Go to Google Reader, then use your cursor keys thus: up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A. A ninja then pops onto your screen and into your search box.
If you can’t be bothered, here’s a screenshot:

Verbatim for Raw Google Results

Google have unleashed a wonderful new feature called Verbatim. It can be found in Search Tools in the left navigation of search results. What it does is strip the search results of everything that might give you a different results page than someone else in another land. No personalization, no country bias, no spelling corrections, no synonyms, and so on.

Google Gravity

Do a Google search for “Google Gravity”. Click on “I’m feeling lucky” (or you might find it on right hand side of the suggested searches). Then watch your screen collapse:
Or just search for “askew” to make the results page lean…

Hello Google Flights

This new service is indicative of how Google, while providing un-monetized information, is also positioning itself to profit from it at a later date, if the service proves popular.
Limited to the USA at this stage, I like the interface (clean and quick, of course), especially how you an see where you could travel to and the minimum prices, for those with no fixed plans.

Farewell Aardvark

I was really surprised when Google purchased Aardvark, considering they’d already given up on the questions and answer game years prior with Google Answers.
Still, I persisted with it, because I like to help people out. But because my expertise was based on keywords found in my Gmail account, rather than my true expertise, most of the questions I received were not suited to me. And when I didn’t respond to a question immediately, and it gave up on me, I felt like I had missed out. It constantly left me feeling disappointed :(
So, along with all the other Labs projects, Aardvark is ending at the end of September. I’m guessing that such an automated system, with no monetization, probably didn’t have any staff to make redundant!

Adwords Bans 800,000 Accounts in 2011

It’s an extraordinary number of accounts to ban, so either every second marketer on the planet is trying to promote something fraudulent, or bad sorts have been automating the creation of new accounts. According to Google, it is the latter: there are relatively few malicious players.
To ban 800,000 accounts, Google obviously needs automated systems:
One method we use to test the success of our efforts is to ask human raters to tell us how we’re doing. These human raters review a set of sites that are advertised on Google. We use a large set of sites in order to get an accurate statistical reading of our efforts. We also weight the sites in our statistical sample based on the number of times a particular site was displayed so that if a particular site is shown more often, it’s more likely to be in our sample set. By using human raters, we can calibrate our automated systems and ensure that we’re improving our efforts over time.
I wonder if Google has estimates on how many automated bans were made in error? Their previous post also goes into great detail at how they find the bad guys, but so far there is no mention of how they fix their mistakes. Wrongfully banned Adwords users will point out the speaking to a real person to get the suspension reviewed can be very difficult.
It has been suggested that the mistakes are simply collateral damage and bad luck to those who lose their accounts. Unfortunately those most likely to be affected are those who rely on Adwords for their business. And Google has a monopoly in many countries.

Google Drive Officially Launched – Cheap Too!

Google Drive is now official and real, see the press release.
Surprisingly good is the low upgrade prices for those who want to use more than the free 5GB:
  • 25GB for $2.49/month
  • 100GB for $4.99/month
  • 1TB for $49.99/month
Google Drive is therefore cheaper than Amazon S3 (prices here), although Amazon is targeted at enterprise customers, who are much more likely to use up their full allowance.
And substantially cheaper than DropBox.

Google Drive vs DropBox

Leaked a week before it is officially released are leaked details of Google’s storage service named Google Drive.
Here’s how it compares with Dropbox:
Google: 5GB free
DropBox: 2GB free
Google: Very best & fast servers
DropBox: Probably not nearly as good
Google: Reliable
DropBox: Reliable
Google: Trustworthy?
DropBox: Trustworthy?
Google: Loathed as a company
DropBox: Loved
DropBox has first mover advantage. Most likely DropBox will keep their existing customers, because people are loathe to mess with switching providers, no matter how easy it will be. But Google will certainly snare customers from their other products who are considering such a service. With time most internet users will have a need for cloud space, and Google is certainly capable of being the biggest provider.

Google Enlightens on Spam Decisions

Ever wondered why spam ends up in your spam folder? I’ve always been curious, and because I have a (very minor) hacker bent, I’ve been keen on having more control over it – for example I’d like to spam anything that is not written in English (because clearly they don’t know me…).
Google isn’t providing control, but they are now divulging reasons for why an email gets pigeon-holed as spam.
The five key categories are:
  • Phishing scams
  • Messages from an unconfirmed sender
  • Messages you sent to Spam
  • Similarity to suspicious messages
  • Administrator-set policies
Look at any particular email in your spam folder and you’ll now see a message like this:
Why is this message in Spam? It’s similar to messages that were detected by our spam filters.
Visit Google Support for deeper details.

Stealth – New Google Competitor

As search engines increasingly gather and store data about their users, there is an opportunity for a new search engine that just provides good results, and nothing else. Which is easy to achieve when you are starting out – but if such a search engine ever does well, there will be pressure to start doing the very things they were against, for the $$$. Of course Wikipedia have stuck to their no-ad promise, so it’s possible for a search engine as well.
Stealth doesn’t record any info, and routes your search query through other servers so that the link you click on doesn’t pass on referrer data (browser, IP, search query, cookies etc).
In their F.A.Q there’s this:

Where does Stealth get its search results from?

We do a good bit of our own crawling and also utilize many different API’s (Google’s Ajax API, Bing’s search API, etc) as well.
From looking at their search results, I think it is fair to say the results are 100% lifted from Google. So for now, if you like Google results (just web, not universal) and care about privacy, use UseStealth.com
Maybe ranking services could use it, and maybe it could become the de facto standard for determining a site’s ranking in Google.

New: Symptom Search

One day we will be able to self-diagnose. The next step towards that goal has been provided by Google. Now, if you search for a symptom or multiple symptoms, Google might return “related searches”. That’s all Google will dare call them, because it is just the algorithm making the connection, not a person and certainly not a doctor.
While this start is exciting, I hope people don’t mistake the first 5 results for being the only possible illnesses related to the symptoms…

Google Now Indexing Symbols… Like +

I was wondering if and when it would happen. Google have a product called Google+, which they have high hopes for. Yet they chose a brand name that could not be searched for in Google!
Google can’t show themselves favoritism, so they now index a wide array of symbols:
I’ve recently noticed that Google started to show results for queries like [.], [,], [:], [;], [#], [%], [@], [^], [)], [~], [|], ["], [<], [$]. When you search for [%], Google shows the results for [percent sign] and that happens irrespective of the interface language, so it’s not a synonym generated by Google’s algorithms. [source]
It’s not perfect, because obviously some are used for advanced search features within Google – so a search for a phrase within quotes won’t only bring up pages where it appears in quotes…
And if you search for : you get anatomical results because it is searching for the name of the colon symbol rather than the symbol itself

Important AdWords Help Page Not Indexed

Once upon a time Google decided to give advance notice of upcoming policy updates – probably to keep them safe legally. It was a good call, because it would be unreasonable for advertisers to check the myriad of policy pages on a daily basis.
But it seems Google doesn’t care too much about the page. I only found it by accident, and I doubt advertisers were ever emailed about its existence. Yes, it might have been mentioned on Google’s Adwords blog, but most advertisers don’t even know about the blog, let alone feel they have to read it every day.
Now, to make things worse, Google have changed the URL of the page, making it even more obscure. And I’ve just found out the new page isn’t even indexed in Google!
Here’s all it says on the old page:
This page shows upcoming changes to the AdWords advertising policies. When appropriate, we also send out service announcements and notifications to advertisers who are directly impacted by our policy changes. We hope that you find this page useful.
(the rest of the page is blank, and there’s no link to or mention of the new page)
But not indexed!
I feel sorry for any advertisers who lose their accounts because they weren’t aware of rule changes, because Google:
  • has a continually changing and hard to use navigation system for their help files
  • doesn’t contact advertisers directly about policy changes that could see their account permanently closed
  • doesn’t even index a page as critical as the AdWords Policy Change Log

Google Breaking Their Own Guidelines

Google is trying out a new AdWords format, in which searchers can sign up for newsletters from within an ad. If you are signed into your Google account, the form is pre-filled with your email address.
I’m wondering how this fits with Google’s own landing page guidelines. Obviously the ads are not landing pages, and the advertiser is probably still required to have the information on the site the ad points to… but the guidelines state
If you do request personal information, provide a privacy policy that discloses how the information will be used.
If the searcher subscribes, they just see this:
No immediate opportunity to see a privacy policy.
Original story at Search Engine Land