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Google: An Elephant Dancing Ballet




What really goes on inside Google? Wired magazine’s Stephen Levy takes a peek inside the world’s most popular search engine. While most of what he saw will come as no surprise to people who’ve been in search at least a year or two, we do get a glimpse of some of the mechanisms the company uses to keep ahead of the competition.

Google really does strive to be all things to all people. They want to—and have to—”answer” questions asked in thought fragments, interpret meaning from snippets of sense and return relevant results. So how do they do it, while serving billions of queries? The same way a lot of us have to do things at work: meetings.

For real.

Meetings are usually the antithesis of productivity, but naturally, at Google, that paradigm is turned on its head (or so it sounds—I’m sure they sit through many unproductive meetings, too). At a weekly Search Quality Launch Meeting, a team of engineers examine search results before and after little tweaks to the engine.

These little tweaks are constantly being tested by Google’s employees, quality testers—and you. Says Levy:

There are so many changes to measure that Google has discarded the traditional scientific nostrum that only one experiment should be conducted at a time. “On most Google queries, you’re actually in multiple control or experimental groups simultaneously,” says search quality engineer Patrick Riley. Then he corrects himself. “Essentially,” he says, “all the queries are involved in some test.” In other words, just about every time you search on Google, you’re a lab rat.

Levy also looks at “bi-gram breakage” improvements—i.e. when Google figured out that “new york” is a unit and “new york times” is a distinct unit—as well as earlier improvements like synonyms and early semantic search cues.

It’s good that a behemoth like Google is light enough on its feet to continually try to improve. If they rested on their laurels, they would have become obsolete years ago.

But my favorite part of the article was one of the comments. Despite Levy’s note at the beginning that Facebook, Twitter and Yelp point toward the disparate, fragmented future of search, and the fact that it’s actually possible to get off the Google-Aid, essentially, the commentator bemoaned our fate as Google will become our one and only choice for virtually all our Internet information needs.

The commentator included a link to his blog—hosted on Blogspot. (At least he noted that he likes Google ;) !)

What do you think? Is Google-vergence inevitable? Are they doing enough to innovate? Do you see the little improvements?