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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Marissa Mayer Leaving Google? Don't Laugh

There are reports that Marissa Mayer is leaving Google. Barry Schwartz commented briefly about it today on SearchEngineLand and he points to a report coming from Valleywag yesterday. I've heard Mayer speak at Search Engine Strategies (SES) San Jose in August of 2007 where I took a few photographs of her conversation with Danny Sullivan, below. (Click the image for more photos)


She seemed personable and intelligent there as she discussed Google search and displayed the iPhone interface on her phone. I've briefly mentioned her comments in a post on "previous Query Refinement" but don't recall hearing much from her elsewhere.

To get a better idea of what google is losing if she does indeed depart, I took a look at a video of her presentations at Google I/O Developer conference 2008. Here's that hour long presentation if you have time for it:

It's often odd to see executives leave successful companies, knowing that they have made major, substantial contributions to the shape of that success. The video above is a great way to become familiar with what Google is losing.

Gawker apparently wants to poke with the sharpest stick and they focus on her personal fortune as the 19th employee of the startup, fresh out of Stanford and her laugh! The laugh does surface a time or two in her I/O conference presentation above, but seems endearing and humanizing there.

Google is apparently about to lose a big talent. I've often wondered why people leave startups after they go public - those who help to build the vision over time. Sergei and Larry are clearly not serial entrepreneurs. They are staying. Is Mayer on the way out?

UPDATE: Turns out she isn't leaving. Still there as of April 1st. Maybe it was an early April fools joke played on Google by Valleywag?

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Previous Query Refinement vs. Search Pollutants

This morning I saw a Danny Sullivan post from SMX Sydney after interviewed Google's VP of Search Products, Marissa Mayer during the SMX keynote. Sullivan emphasized the importance of Mayer's announcement that "Previous Query Refinement" is coming to web search - after that product had been tested in a limited way on Adwords ads only.

But then today Mediapost also wrote about search privacy concerns voiced by the Center for Digital Democracy in a complaint filed with the FTC back in November of 2006, brought to a head when public comment to FTC's proposed "voluntary guidelines" drew objections by all major players in "behavioral marketing" ad networks . According to MediaPost, Google's comments to the FTC, said:

"We are currently experimenting in our Search service with providing ads based on both the current query and the immediately previous search," Google wrote. "For example, a user who types 'Italy vacation' into the Google search box might see ads about Tuscany or affordable flights to Rome. If the user were to subsequently search for 'weather,' we might assume that there is a link between 'Italy vacation' and 'weather' and deliver ads regarding local weather conditions in Italy."

So while the two issues (web search and Adwords that appear beside those search results) would not BOTH be affected by the FTC "guidelines" it could mean that we would see better search results and worse ads if those "guidelines" are in any way enforced by the FTC against ads, but not natural algorithmic search results.

What an odd position to be in for a privacy advocate like me. While the search results are bound to be better when previous queries are factored into the algorithm, the ads may be off-limits to the same refinement. Hmmm.

A very funny kink in this story from MediaPost is the quote:

Google rival Microsoft, on the other hand, said it supports the FTC's goals and that the proposed guidelines should be extended "to include the full array of online advertising activities."

Umm, yea - poor search results, no worthwhile algorithm from the last place search company MSN Live - who would never use their latest $6 Billion acquisition, aQuantive, to serve behavioral advertising to anyone - right? aQuantive execs had to be moaning in pain when they saw their new parent making such statements.

It's bound to be an interesting decision with lawsuits flying in both directions from privacy advocates on one side and ad networks on the other after those "voluntary guidelines" from the FTC are finally handed down.

I really do believe the search results using "Previous Query Refinement" would be better in most cases, for most people. I'll probably like those results sometimes and hate them others. I'll love them when I search for "Restaurant, New York City" and then "Italian food, Theater District" but I'll absolutely hate those results when I'm researching "accounting software" client keywords and decide to switch to my "plastic surgeon" client keywords or a search for a local auto parts store right after doing a medical search query.

Do those of us who search constantly get different types of cookies served for "Previous Query Refinement" searches than say my wife who searches for things only after asking me a tough trivia question or home repair question and I say, "Why don't you Google it?" She does two searches a day at most and I do 50 to 100 daily. Will I need to disable cookies? Sign out of my Google personalized search? How will "Previous Query Refinement" distinguish between those of us who want Unpolluted search results and those who need a helping hand with "Query Refinement?"

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