Danny Sullivan interview - and Google's Xmas turkey

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 24 December 2002

Searchengineblog has an interesting interview with Danny Sullivan, and two things in particular caught my eye.

Firstly, looking to the future, Danny believes that:

Where will it go? More paid, certainly... while editorial results will continue to be shown, I think you'll see their prominence be more eroded over time.

This can only be a bad thing in my opinion.

Secondly, he talks about something I have been thinking about for some time, namely, how to squeeze as much context as possible out of the tiny fragment of information the user gives when they search.

It's long overdue for search engines to do a better job of looking at our queries and delivering up more targeted results. Did someone search for something clearly news-related? Then pump out mostly news search results with a link to more web-wide results, rather than the opposite case that happens now. Same thing for other situations. Did I just search for "pictures of madonna?" Then you ought to give me image results, since that's almost certainly what I want. Did I ask for "buying dvd players?" Then I may want both commercial product listings as well as informational resources. How about ensuring a good blend of both. I call this "mindreading." Do a better job at reading my mind, understanding my intent, then give me matches from an appropriate database.

This is something the current crop of search tools do very badly, and there is a classic example on the net at the moment.

google xmas logo 2002

The Google homepage has one of their lovely seasonal logos on display - a pile of presents underneath the standard logo. the visual cue says "It is Christmas. We know it is Christmas. You know it is Christmas".

Yet a search for "turkey" yields as its number one result www.turkey.org - official website of the Turkish Embassy in USA. And it is halfway down the results page before you even get anything close to offering recipes or cooking information.

I can guarantee that 95% of the people searching for "turkey" in the UK and in the USA over the last two weeks were looking for advice on where to buy one, how to cook it, and what to do with the leftovers. They were not planning their summer holidays or checking out the details of the Turkish government's policy for joining the EU.

PageRank takes no account of the seasonality of the search, even though on its homepage Google is visually cueing the user to search for "christmas". Result: user disappointment and frustration.

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