Even If Google Could Improve Its Recommendations, Is It The Government's Job To Tell It To Do So?

from the seems-troubling dept

There were reports a few weeks ago that the European Commission has reopened its antitrust investigation into Google. The main issue is how Google promotes certain (usually internal) results in so-called "answer boxes" in a way that may hurt other sites. We've been skeptical of the idea of European bureaucrats deciding what Google's search results should look like, but earlier this year, it appeared that a settlement had been reached in which Google would point to competitors' results in some cases.

Against this backdrop, a few organizations, led by Yelp and TripAdvisor have created a somewhat fascinating site and tool called Focus On The User -- a play on Google's own core philosophy of "focus on the user and all else will follow." The site makes a very compelling argument that when Google is returning opinions (i.e., ratings) rather than factual answers, that it could do a much better job than just pointing to results from Google+. That is, if you do a search on "best restaurants in San Francisco" Google will show you results as rated by Google+ user reviews.

The Focus on the User site shows that rather than just relying on Google's own data, users would benefit greatly if Google used its own search algorithm to pull in results from reviews elsewhere. In short, where you might see a box up top with seven to ten reviews (all linking to Google pages), Yelp and TripAdvisor are arguing that if you just used Google's "organic" search algorithm to find the most relevant review pages, consumers get a much better experience. And they have a fair amount of data to back that up, showing a greater number of clicks in such a box (which you can test yourself via the site).

As noted above, the results are compelling. Using Google's own algorithm to rank all possible reviews seems like a pretty smart way of doing things, and likely to give better results than just using Google's (much more limited) database of reviews. But here's the thing: while I completely agree that this is how Google should offer up reviews in response to "opinion" type questions, I still am troubled by the idea that this should be dictated by government bureaucrats. Frankly, I'm kind of surprised this isn't the way Google operates, and it's a bit disappointing that the company doesn't just jump on this as a solution voluntarily, rather than dragging it out and having the bureaucrats force it upon them.

So while the site is fascinating, and the case is compelling, it still has this problem of getting into a very touchy territory where we're expecting government's to design the results of search engines. It seems like Yelp, TripAdvisor and others can make the case to Google and the public directly that this is a better way to do things, rather than having the government try to order Google to use it.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 6:26am

    I still am troubled by the idea that this should be dictated by government bureaucrats.

    As would be the companies pushing this, is they were forced to serve results from competitors.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Howard (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 7:43am

      Re:

      While I agree with you, I'm still pissed about google shoveling down g+ on everyone's throat. This bias is just another attemp to force a product no one really want, but google would benefit from greatly.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 7:59am

        Re: Re:

        "I'm still pissed about google shoveling down g+ on everyone's throat"

        Heh. I'm glad I'm not the only one!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Ninja (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 8:08am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Add me to the crowd even though I do have a g+ profile. Now being forced to use it everywhere....

          Still, a lot of backlash can make them backdown. A Govt mandated implementation however...

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 8:26am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            So make minimum use of it, and use other sites and services for the rest of your needs. One useful feature of the Internet is that you can be many people, with distinct emails addresses etc.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              John Fenderson (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 9:55am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Or just not use it at all. While I did have a G+ account because a particular piece of software I used required it, I eventually decided that the software wasn't worth satisfying the requirement and so I ditched it all, including the G+ account.

              Nonetheless, Google's efforts to push everyone into G+ was so nasty that I'll probably never forgive them for it (much like I'll never forgive Microsoft for forcing that Metro nonsense onto desktop users).

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 6:34am

    "users would benefit greatly if Google used its own search algorithm to pull in results from reviews elsewhere"

    ... let me guess, like Yelp?

    Hahahaha - If I wanted to see bought and paid for "reviews" from Yelp, I would go to their pathetic website.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 8:07am

      Re:

      They did this sort of thing for quite a while with Twitter to have access to all public tweets. Then the contract ran out and Twitter refused to continue sharing the data. When Google lost access to the broad spectrum of data they decided it was time to build their own service so they could control the access. I bet if Yelp signed a contract with Google to provide perpetual access to the data they would get better access and ranking.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DOlz (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 6:37am

    That’s so quaint

    " a play on Google's own core philosophy of "focus on the user and all else will follow.””

    Like their “Don’t be evil” slogan, that’s like so start up man.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 6:45am

      Re: That’s so quaint

      "Like their “Don’t be evil” slogan, that’s like so start up man."

      Yeah, they gave up that idea a long time ago.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 7:01am

    The internet is a moral-neutral ecosystem with limitless potential.
    Every time a government meddles with it, whether for good or for bad, it puts limits on that potential.
    Every time they stick their nose into the internet, they're saying "We want this to be a little less good."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    LduN (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 7:02am

    the government will regulate how sites work, but will totally ignore what should be better regulated ::cough:: ::cough:: ISPs ::cough:: ::cough::

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 7:16am

    And the NY Times site should serve up stories from the Post?

    Crazy Europe. Half the companies don't want Google to steer traffic their way, and half of them do. Just what is a search engine to do?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 7:35am

      Re: And the NY Times site should serve up stories from the Post?

      It's more along the lines of 'Half the companies want Google to steer traffic their way, and the other half want Google to pay for steering traffic their way.' They all want the increased traffic, some of them just want Google to pay for the 'privilege' of sending it to them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        OldMugwump (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 8:07am

        Re: Half the companies don't want Google to steer traffic their way, and half of them do.

        I think the idea is:

        Step 1 - Government forces Google to send traffic to them.

        Step 2 - Government forces Google to pay for the 'privilege' of sending the traffic.

        Step 3 - Profit!!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jake, 2 Oct 2014 @ 7:46am

    Speaking as a European, I actually trust government bureaucrats to not fuck up way, way more than I'd trust the private sector.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 7:49am

    The EU needs to be sued by its constituents for fucking with the free market. You notice it's only competitors who are bitching about Google results. If the users don't find what they're looking for, they look elsewhere and Google loses market share. Google should create a special EU mandate box on their search results pages that indicate what officious governments think should be on the page and the users should be able to permanently block it or opt out, maybe with a tally that gets sent to the EU stating, "x number of users say don't fuck with my search results."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 11:03am

      Re:

      The EU needs to be sued by its constituents for fucking with the free market.

      I'm not sure the constituents object.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Niall (profile), 3 Oct 2014 @ 5:46am

        Re: Re:

        We don't have quite the American/Randian 'love' for the free market over here, because after all, we are all raging socialists who expect free healthcare, social justice and don't mind paying taxes for the betterment of others.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Adam Bjornholm, 2 Oct 2014 @ 8:14am

    It's always google's fault

    There has to be someway google can keep shoving g+ onto their users and give them productive search results, maybe a sidebar dedicated to g+ reviews along with the actual helpful results?

    On a google related note:
    http://www.msn.com/en-us/entertainment/celebrity/lawyer-to-the-stars-goes-after-google-in-holly wood-hacking-scandal/ar-BB6ZNio

    So, google is the internet now? When will hollywood start to understand technology?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 10:23am

    Search is a utility. Unfortunately Google has a monopoly on search. It is only a matter of time before it is broken up and regulated, just like AT&T was.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 10:38am

      Re:

      In what universe are you living, there is DuckDuckGo, Bing, Yahoo, just to name the more well known ones. They may not be as good as Google for somethings, but for many searches they will find what you want, and if that fails you can go to Google.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 10:47am

        Re: Re:

        Random engines that no one uses. They're either inferior or rebranded in that they simply scrape or use Google for their results.
        Google is a full monopoly built with NSA technology and money and it will be broken up.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 11:00am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Random engines that no one uses. They're either inferior or rebranded in that they simply scrape or use Google for their results.

          'Other alternatives are crap' does not a monopoly make. 'No other alternatives exist' is what defines a monopoly, something which is clearly not true with regards to Google's 'search monopoly'.

          Personally I don't even use Google anymore, because they've folded so many times and allowed outside sources to dictate what they may, and may not show in their results. Once they started taking orders from 'entertainment' industries, governments, and various other groups as to what they were allowed to return as search results, they became useless as a search engine, as they're returning results based not upon the best match-up, but upon what a third party wants you to see.

          I won't even bother to humor the second half, other than a simple [CITATION NEEDED].

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 12:50pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            'Other alternatives are crap' does not a monopoly make. 'No other alternatives exist' is what defines a monopoly, something which is clearly not true with regards to Google's 'search monopoly'.


            Being a little literal, aren't you? Microsoft had competitors but was still a monopoly: "Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson issued his findings of fact on November 5, 1999, which stated that Microsoft's dominance of the x86-based personal computer operating systems market constituted a monopoly, and that Microsoft had taken actions to crush threats to that monopoly, including Apple, Java, Netscape, Lotus Notes, RealNetworks, Linux, and others." Windows was not literally the only x86-based PC operating system but it was still a monopoly.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              That One Guy (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 1:49pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Here's the important difference there:

              ...which stated that Microsoft's dominance of the x86-based personal computer operating systems market constituted a monopoly, and that Microsoft had taken actions to crush threats to that monopoly

              There's also the minor difference that without an OS a computer doesn't work, but without a particular search engine(because again, there are many non-Google alternatives) you can still get by just fine.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 1:12pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Personally I use DuckDuckGo if I want a general search, but if looking up factual stuff, I search Wikipedia directly. There is a Firefox add on, Add search Engine which allow any search engine to be added to the search engine list, so switching engines is trivial, with no need to bookmark the sites. This is useful for specialized searches, like AllDataSheet.com and the Internet Archive etc. This generally gives better searching for what I want to look up.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Captive Audience, 27 Dec 2014 @ 6:45pm

            Re: duckduckgo

            I really like duckduckgo and use firefox on my android almost exclusively because I was able to set it as my default search engine.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 10:40am

      Re:

      Google absolutely does not have a monopoly on search, unless by "monopoly" you mean "has lots of competitors."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 10:51am

        Re: Re:

        They have a monopoly because their "competitors" have no chance of actually competing with them. Google has a government-aided monopoly on the tech that allows it to be the most effective search engine.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Gwiz (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 10:58am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Google has a government-aided monopoly on the tech that allows it to be the most effective search engine.


          What "government-aided monopoly" are you talking about?

          Citation please.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          John Fenderson (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 11:38am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "They have a monopoly because their "competitors" have no chance of actually competing with them."

          I have no idea what you're talking about. The competitors do actually compete with google, or they wouldn't exist. It doesn't matter how popular they are for the sake of this discussion. The only thing that counts is that they exist and function, and they do. People who have a problem with Google can easily stop using Google for searches. There are plenty of alternatives, which means that Google doesn't have a monopoly.

          Even if, for the sake of argument, we grant that Google does have an effective monopoly, I still say "so what". Google is not abusing any such monopoly position, and in the US, being a monopoly is just fine a long as you aren't abusing your monopoly status.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 12:55pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            What do you mean not abusing any monopoly position? They're clearly using their search dominance to push their social network as revealed by this very article.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              John Fenderson (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 2:10pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              By abusing a monopoly position, I mean the legal standard for what constitutes this. Essentially, it means leveraging the monopoly position to unfairly disadavantage competing products. This is admittedly a hazy standard, which is why it always requires a judge to make the determination.

              "They're clearly using their search dominance to push their social network as revealed by this very article."

              Simply using your platform to push your other products is not abusing a monopoly position. If they were to game the search engine so that competing products never appeared in results of searches for social networks, that would be abusing the monopoly position.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2014 @ 6:01am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Um, if you don't want to have Google promote its services when you search, perhaps you could use a different search engine.

              You can type Bing** into Google and then type whatever you are searching for into bings** search box.

              **substitute whichever search engine floats your boat

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Mike Masnick (profile), 2 Oct 2014 @ 1:40pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          They have a monopoly because their "competitors" have no chance of actually competing with them.

          I remember when people said that about AOL, Yahoo and MySpace too.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 1:50pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            I've heard this company-written retort before. Let's see how it works in the real world of a courtroom.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 2:18pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Let's see how it works in the real world of a courtroom.

              Courtrooms have little to do with the real world, especially when the basis of the action is they are more successful business than us, so make them stop, or at least send customers our way.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    HMTKSteve, 2 Oct 2014 @ 4:16pm

    Lawsuits?

    It sounds like Yelp and company want Google to have direct access to their databases so that Google can use their information to give better results? Then, when people no longer need to visit Yelp and Company because Google has all of their data... ???

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2014 @ 7:51pm

    Nope.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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