Tag Archives: search terms

Fail, Seinfeld and Tina Fey: A Zeitgeist

I use Google Insights quite a bit—I find it a very useful way to measure interest in topics. Here’s one I keyed in just for the hell of it. Red is the word success and blue is the word fail. The chart covers from 2004 to today:

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What seems to have happened is a surge of interest in the word fail relative to the word success.

To the point where, in the past week or two, it’s become a more popular word to include in search terms than the word success, for the first time in four years.

Just to magnify that last bit:

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What does this mean? Probably not very much. But I found it intriguing. Are we now more interested in failure than success, or is it just this ridiculous new fascination with the word FAIL?

I think these Google searches reveal a lot more than we’re really giving them credit for. If nothing else, I believe they offer a pretty good idea of a celebrity’s career trajectory.

Take these clowns, for example. Here’s the gradually declining interest in Bill Gates (red) and Seinfeld (blue), revived, briefly, by the Microsoft ads:

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(The blips in 2006 and 2007 for Seinfeld, by the way, are ‘Kramer’s’ racial slurs and Seinfeld’s aptly titled The Bee Movie, by the way.)

Here are the two comediennes, Sarah Palin and Tina Fey, their careers apparently forever intertwined. Palin is of course red:

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A close-up reveals that Palin might be on the decline, whereas Tina is on the up:

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Because all these things are relative, put Seinfeld and Tina Fey (red) in the same room and you get an idea of how big a shot she has become this year:

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Just to stress that last spike:

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Seinfeld was right when he said he was a has-been. Still a funny guy though.

And I can’t resist taking a look at how Techcrunch and Scoble (blue) face up:

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Ouch. Seems Scoble started losing ground in in 2006. But hey, who knows? With this new dotcom crunch, maybe he’ll have the last laugh. Gotta admire someone who’s kept his own for 4+ years.

Talking of not leaving the party after it’s over, how does Vista shape up against XP? The chart is surprisingly revealing. Vista (red) enjoys a spike in early 2007 on its launch, but never seems to be able to shake off the XP shadow:

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That’s one FAIL, I reckon.

Who says graphs are boring?

Google Suggest: Your Company + Scam

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I find that the auto suggestions feature from Google Suggest in the Firefox search box very useful. But perhaps not in the way it was intended.

Google Suggest works via algorithms that “use a wide range of information to predict the queries users are most likely to want to see. For example, Google Suggest uses data about the overall popularity of various searches to help rank the refinements it offers.” In other words,  type one word and Google will tell you the next word most likely to be typed after it. Type “dimitar” and the most likely second word will be “berbatov” (this may not been a lot to non-soccer fans, but trust me, the two words go together like rock and roll for the rest of us):

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This can be useful, or at least revealing.

For example, I received one of those awful pieces of spam from Tagged.com that give the whole social networking thing a bad name:

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Click on the “Click here to block all emails from Tagged Inc., 110 Pacific Mall Box #117, San Francisco, CA. 94111” and you’re taken to a page where you’re asked to sign in or sign up. A sure sign of a scam if ever there was one; what happened to opting out a la CANSPAM?

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So I figured I should Google these clowns and see what’s being said about them. Type their name into the Firefox search box, and then hit the space bar, and this was what Google offered me as the most popular search terms:

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Having your product name coupled with “spam” and “scam” in its top three searches can’t be good.

Needless to say, tagged.com is a scam, at least in the way it tries to hoodwink users into signing up and signing up their friends. Here’s how the excellent and resourceful Amit Agarwal recommends you get rid of it from your inbox. It’s a shame that so many apparently good names are involved in something so blatantly anti-social and spammy. At what point do these people feel they’ve lost the game and allow corners to be cut? One of the founders even spoke at last year’s Authentication and Online Trust Summit for crying out loud.

The bigger issue is how to stop these sites from damaging social networking further. But that’s for another day. For now, using Google Suggest is a good quick way to know whether you’re on a hiding to nothing if you even click on a link in one of these emails. Take another scam networking site I’ve written about recently, Yaari. Its Google Suggest juice comes out looking similarly dodgy:

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Compare that with something a bit more bona fide, like LinkedIn:

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While this is a useful tool for us, I’m guessing that the companies involved are going to be hiring some drones to try to massage these results so they don’t look quite so  bad.

WhenU Addresses Its Image Problem

The whole WhenU story gets weirder and weirder.

Last week Ben Edelman, the privacy hound, pointed out that the besieged pop-up provider WhenU was ‘cloaking’ itself. This means, in Ben’s words, ”using prohibited ‘cloaking’ methods to make search engines think certain WhenU servers offer content of interest to readers seeking certain search terms, when in fact the servers merely redirect readers to articles favorable to WhenU.” The result: ”WhenU elevates the visibility of sites it selects, while pushing critics’ sites lower in search engine rankings.”

Google and Yahoo have since removed from their listing all WhenU sites involved in the scheme. WhenU, for their part, have blamed an outside company for the move: “WhenU hired an outside Search Engine Optimization firm to legitimately enhance our search engine rankings. These issues were brought to our attention today, and we immediately addressed the situation and instructed the outside firm to reverse their actions. We anticipate being relisted at the major search engines shortly,” says Avi Naider of WhenU.

Now Ben has spotted something that WhenU may find harder to explain away: WhenU has, he says, stacked copies of more than two dozen news articles on at least 12 of its websites in an apparent attempt to create a “boost in visibility of this pro-WhenU content, at the expense of content critical to WhenU”. These websites include a dizzying smorgasbord of names, including whenubuild.com, whenuchat.com, whenyoucook.com, whenudecorate.com, whenulearn.com, whenumail.com, whenuretire.com, whenusleuth.com, whenusurf.com, whenyouinvest.com, and whereuinvest.net.

Of course there’s nothing wrong in itself with doing this, although the intention seems to be clearly the same as the earlier the move — to improve search results for webpages referring positively to WhenU. But as Ben points out: “Research has yet to determine whether WhenU has authorization to make these article copies, but the articles mention no such authorization. The articles also lack ordinary statements of copyright by their respective publications.”

I’ve sought comment from WhenU on this, and will post anything once I receive it. At first glance it does appear that WhenU are taking desperate measures in the face of public criticism and legal challenges. It will be interesting

X1 and NewsGator Get Together

X1 Technologies, Inc., the hard disk indexing guys, have teamed up with NewsGator Technologies, the RSS-in-your-Outlook guys, to allow fast searches through your subscribed RSS feeds and Usenet newsgroups.

This basically involves an extra element in X1, which “lets a user sort through the aggregated messages and find the content they want, narrowing and displaying results as they type the search terms.  Results are displayed in the X1 preview pane for a quick read or, with a double-click, can be
opened in Outlook.” For now, folk buying X1 Search get NewsGator, which normally sells for $29, free. NewsGator users can buy X1 at a 30% discount.

So how good is this? Robert Scoble, the Microsoft blogger, adds his seal of approval in the X1 press release, calling it “a little bit of Longhorn for you before it ships”. I’m a bit more cautious: Although I’ve written glowingly of both products before, I’ll air a confession: I don’t use either on a regular basis. Why? First off, I’m not a big Outlook fan. It’s big, slow to load, and doesn’t do things I want it to. I use it for contacts, but not for email, so having RSS run through Outlook doesn’t really make sense for me.

And X1? I think X1 is an excellent product, and the guys behind it have raised the bar in terms of listening to users and making something that really works well. Are they there yet? I don’t think so. A couple of things holding me back: It’s not powerful enough to launch or store complex searches and its file viewer is nice but doesn’t remember changes to the way you view data. Don’t get me wrong: For ordinary daily use it’s perfect, but if you’re a power searcher, I don’t think it’s the one. Yet.

A New Search Engine, All The Old Issues

In case you haven’t heard, Amazon has launched its own search engine, A9 and a toolbar (for now compatible only with IE) which dovetails with your Amazon account.

Supposed advantages over other search engines (here’s A9’s own list):

  • Simultaneously searches Amazon’s book store while searching the web.
  • Amazon book search results, and a history of your previous searches, are easily accessed in neat, adjustable, vertical flaps.
  • Apart from offering the usual toolbar features — blocks popups, web search, highlights word matches, information on sites visited — it also offers a couple of interesting extras, including a history of previous searches, a way to add your reviews of sites visited, a diary where you can store notes on any particular webpage you visit and view when you revisit that webpage.

Disadvantages:

  • These last two elements — review, webpage notes — remind me of long dead web annotation services like uTok, Instant Rendezvous and Third Voice. Do Amazon think that going down this road is really ‘cool’? Am I missing something or wasn’t this where Alexa was before it was bought out by, er, Amazon? Or were these guys just a tad early to the blogging revolution?
  • Toolbar isn’t stable yet. Installation was a bit wobbly on my system
  • I’m not crazy about the colour scheme, but maybe that’s just me.
  • Under the hood the search engine is Google. Why change?

And then there’s the privacy stuff? This is a tough one. The Alexa toolbar, also owned by Amazon, has had a rocky history on this issue, since it, in its own words, ”COLLECTS AND STORES INFORMATION ABOUT THE WEB PAGES YOU VIEW, THE DATA YOU ENTER IN ONLINE FORMS AND SEARCH FIELDS, AND, WITH VERSIONS 5.0 AND HIGHER, THE PRODUCTS YOU PURCHASE ONLINE WHILE USING THE TOOLBAR SERVICE.” (Their upper case, not mine.)  

In a way, if you’re a customer of Amazon it’s a bit late to start worrying about privacy. As Amazon says on its A9 privacy policy page, “You provide information when you enter search terms; download and use our toolbar; communicate with us by phone, e-mail, or otherwise; and employ our other services. As a result of those actions, you might supply us with personally identifiable information or information about things that interest you.” I’m not going to make a call on this. Bottom line: If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your browsing habits with Amazon, you can use their ‘generic’ version of A9.

Time will tell whether A9 nips at Google’s own heels. What’s clear is that with the arrival of Gmail and A9, Google and Amazon hope they will be super portals, where folk go to do everything: buy stuff, check email, search the web, fall in love, marry, and stuff.