Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Personalized Search: Where is it?

Posted in business, search by commorancy on March 2, 2014

For all of the innovation hubbub involving search technologies back in the early 2000s, one thing that has still not materialized is personalized search. What is personalized search? Let’s explore.

Generalized Searching

Today, when you go to Google or Bing and you type in search keywords, you’re likely to get the same search results that everyone else sees when typing in those same keywords. But, this is approach today is asinine, antiquated and stupid. While it may have been okay back in the early 2000s when search was new and the database was smaller, with the larger amount of listings, personalized search is long overdue.

When Google introduced Gmail, I thought they might be onto something when they were discussing personalized ads in Gmail. Unfortunately, Gmail is pretty much where all of that innovation ended. Nothing different materialized in Google’s main search product. And worse, it’s now 2014 and we still don’t have anything different.

Personalized Search

Since nearly every search engine requires a login and password, it’s no big leap to offer ways of storing search preferences right into each user’s profile. As you search for things, the system will learn of your likes, preferences and click habits. Even better, add thumbs up and thumbs down on listings to move them up and down in your own personal search rankings. If I don’t ever plan to use Reddit, then I can lower its search rankings in my preferences. If I heavily use Twitter, I raise search rankings involving Twitter when they are ranked lower.

But, my preferences are my own. With the sites I like and the sites I dislike, I should be able to tailor my search results to fit my needs. If I decide to start using Reddit later, I can re-rank these listings higher again. These are all my choices and affect my own personalized search results.

As a side effect of personalized results, it also forces everyone to sign into Google or Bing to gain the benefits of personalized search. That’s definitely a benefit to these search engines.

Why personalized search?

Generalized searching, unfortunately, yields results based on someone else’s likes, dislikes, payola or other criteria. I want to tailor my own results to fit my search needs. So, if I’m searching for a specific product and I use Amazon frequently, Amazon’s listings will always be the first to show at the top. Why show me Newegg or J&R Music listings if I have no intention of going there to buy? It’s a waste of the search engine time and mine.

It’s quite clear that personalized search’s time has come and it’s something Google needs to embrace. That is, rather than the next ‘WheatToast’ version of Android (or whatever clever food name they happen to use). Google has clearly been ignoring search improvements and the lack of innovation in this area clearly shows how out of touch both Google and Bing are.

As the size of search databases grow, individuals need better innovative tools to tame and distill the millions of listings into smaller more personal and useful listings. Personalized search must become the next innovation in search.

What will this break?

Search Engine Optimization. I know I know, I can hear a lot of SEO advocates groaning about how bad this will be for SEO. Note that SEO would only be impacted by each user who tweaks personal search rankings. For users who don’t do this, normal SEO rules apply. Though, I don’t personally care about how high some company is ranked in my personal search list. What I care about is the quality of the listings. In fact, in a lot of cases, SEO won’t even be affected in my own results. If I have made no preferences involving some keywords, the generalized rules still apply. So, if none of my sites that I ranked higher are in the listing, the generalized results will be shown to me and standard SEO won’t be impacted. It’s only after the first generalized results list that I can tweak the listings to my own preference.

After that, SEO may be impacted by my own personal preferences. But hey, that’s my choice. That’s the point to personalized search results. If I value one company over another, that’s my preference. I have the right to make that preference. That some third party wants their listing at the top of my search results is not my problem. You can use a paid listing for that. That’s the point in paying for a listing. The organic results are my own and I should be able to rearrange, tailor and shuffle them to my own personal likes. There is no other way to tame the mounds of links that get thrown at users during generalized search… results that are only to grow larger and larger.

So, to those people relying on SEO, I say, “too bad”. Learn to pay for listings if you want to be at the top of my personalized search results or, alternatively, give me a reason to rank you higher. That is, whenever we finally get personalized search.

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Why Google’s search engine secretly sucks

Posted in Android, botch by commorancy on October 24, 2013

While Google touts its speed in returning results, and indeed the speed is impressive, it’s not the speed that matters. What matters is quality of the results and this is why Google’s search secretly sucks.  Let’s explore.

Google circa 1998

When Google first began in the late 90s, it fumbled to make a significant impact in search. It couldn’t quite figure out how to make searching that much better than what was already in place. From those early days until about 2005 and through many man hours of work, Google’s speed and results have improved. But, those improvements pretty much abruptly ended approximately 2005-2007. You know, right around the time that Android was a twinkle in someone’s eye.  Since then, all we have pretty much seen is stagnation in search technology. Search hasn’t improved in recent years, and even Google acknowledges this because instead of spending time improving search, now Google spends its copious free time creating Android, Gmail, Google Apps, Google Chrome, ChromeOS, Chrome tablets, Google Play, Google Docs, Google Maps, YouTube and the list goes on.  These are diversionary tactics to keep you from seeing just how bad Google search quality really is.

Searching Google Today

While Google’s search technology is still the fastest available and is still better than most other engines, it’s really become stagnant.  So stagnant, in fact, that the quality of the search results really matter very little to Google. For example, I would say that at least 1-2 links out of every search I have performed in the last year is dead.  Basically, it displays results for sites that are either down, sites that lead to placeholder pages or sites that lead to 404 or other unusable content.

I mean, what’s the point in that? I don’t want to look back in time at links that may have had revelance in 1998 or even 2003, I want to find links that are relevant to me today. It’s clear that while Google says they are doing quality optimizations, what they claim and what’s actually coming up in the search results is entirely different. Something about this situation isn’t working.

Dead Links

Really? I mean, come on Google. What’s the point in placing a completely dead link in the top 3 search results? What purpose does that really serve? What this says is that Google has so much cruft and garbage inside their database that’s now becoming dominant during search results. If that’s where we are today, it’s only going to get progressively worse, not better. Note, I’m finding it’s not just one link that’s bad, but several on the same set of results.

This issue is completely preventable. But, it’s going to take automation to fix this. Google needs to scour its indexed links and validate whether or not a site is actually providing the data it’s supposed to be providing. Instead, it appears Google found a page there some years ago, indexed it and that’s the way it has stayed. In reality, this cruft needs to be regularly cleaned out.  If search results had index dates stamped near the results stating when the information was originally indexed, I could simply avoid clicking a link that was last indexed 5 years ago. In fact, with the right UI, I could even request it to include only results that have been indexed in the last 12 months, perhaps even in the last 3 months. Maybe this is there in the ‘advanced search area’? It’s certainly not there in the basic search results.

Fresh Content

By knowing when an indexed link was created in Google and by allowing exclusion of old links, I can then tailor my search results to the most recent and freshest content. Granted, Google should automatically be doing this on my behalf, but they aren’t. Instead, it’s just all manner of random old garbage that gets thrown up in search results… and this is exactly the reason Google’s search secretly sucks.

Can it be fixed? Yes. Will Google ever really fix this? Probably not. It’s not really worth their time at this point. They’re too interested in screwing over SEO, invading privacy in Android and doing other projects unrelated to search.  All of those projects are far more attractive and cool to ever consider spending time doing ugly old janitorial work to clean up the mess they created in the first place. No one likes having to clean up a mess. Cleanup work never involves using cool new technologies, but yet it still has to get done. Unfortunately, this is the very real, very ugly secret why Google’s search sucks. It’s also the secret that Google doesn’t want you to know.

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American Idol: Failure to launch (artists)

Posted in concerts, music, TV Shows by commorancy on May 31, 2009

While I understand the hype about this series (the competition and all), I don’t really understand why this show continues to exist.  Yes, we go through each season and whittle down contestents to the final two.  But, after the winner is chosen, then what?  Oh yeah, they get a recording contract.  What happens after that?

Spotting Commercial Viability

The ‘judges’ (and I use this term loosely) seem to think they know what’s best in the ‘pop music biz’.  Frankly, if they could discover real talent, they would be working for a record company locating and signing talent right and left and not hosting a silly variety hour show.   But, here we are… and here they are.  So, I must honestly question the sincerity and realism of this show.  The whole thing is staged, yes, to find someone who can sing.  But, it’s really there as a money maker for whomever is producing that show.   The underlying values aren’t to get someone signed to a contract.  The real point is  to put on a show.  And, thats what they do, for better or worse.

Judges

It’s funny that they pick judges who are has-been recording artsts and supposedly A&R people like Simon Cowell.  What’s funny about Simon is that his ability to pick talent has been extremely spotty.  For example, he signed and produced Westlife.  Westlife is a boyband that’s a meager shadow of N*Sync and The Backstreet Boys at best.  What’s even more funny is that THAT is really his BEST claim to talent selection outside of Idol.  Every other artist beyond that isn’t even worth mentioning.

So, how do these washed-up has-beens end up judging a show that supposedly prides itself on selecting quality talent?  Well, let’s examine Idol more closely.

Winning Contestants

Since 2002, there has been (in order), Kelly Clarkson, Rubin Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Hicks, Jordin Sparks, David Cook and Kris Allen (most recently).  Arguably, the biggest name to come out of the Idol circle is Kelly Clarkson with Carrie Underwood as a solid second.  The rest, well, what about them?  They may have produced records, but few appear to be listening.  This isn’t a good track record for Idol.

Let’s consider Kelly Clarkson for a moment.  Even she has had her ups and downs (mostly downs).  While Kelly has a resonably strong voice, the question remains just how commercially viable it is.  With a name like American Idol, you’d think that Kelly Clarkson would have taken the pop crown away from the likes of Madonna and Britney.  Yet, while Madonna’s star is fading, Britney has taken the crown over and firmly holds it as far as pop acts go.  Britney wasn’t even ‘discovered’ on Idol.  More than this, Kelly has a stronger voice than Britney, yet you see what that gets you.  Kelly isn’t even close to being in Madonna’s league and, while Britney has her own personal issues, her music producers provide a much better music experience than most of Kelly’s efforts.

Outside of these ‘winners’, we also have non-winners like Jennifer Hudson (who’s at least as well known as Kelly Clarkson and she wasn’t even a runner-up) and she’s also an overall more complete ‘star’ than Kelly.  Then there’s David Archuletta, Chris Daughtry and Clay Aikin.  These four people are the proof that the judges cannot pick winners.  In fact, these 4 people should have won Idol, but didn’t.  Yet, they are still successful on their own.

Track Record

Just looking at Idol’s track record, you can see more of the Idol winners have failed to be commercially viable than have been successful (Fantasia who?  Jordin who? David who?  Rubin who? Taylor who?).  The point here, that the judges clearly are not capable of spotting talent.   Even when someone has real singing talent, is young and good looking, clearly that’s not everything that’s needed.  Otherwise, everyone graduating from Idol would have become an instant success… which, of course, has not happened.

I understand the fervor over this show and I understand that the point in watching is more about the competition than the outcome.   But, isn’t the outcome why we come to watch?  Don’t we actually expect the winner to become popular, make great music and usurp the pop crown from Britney?  After all, that’s what Idol started out promising.

Idol is Flawed

The premise of Idol is flawed.  The barometer by which they choose winners is in versatility in singing already commercially successful songs. The real barometer of talent is both in songwriting and performing.  Even though someone has a great singing voice, that doesn’t automatically make them a pop sensation.  Becoming a ‘Pop Idol’  comes with singing unique new songs.  Songs that have not been heard before.  Better yet, it proves talent when the person can both write and sing their own music.  Artists like Prince and Sarah McLachlan are capable of this.  To me, this is talent worth finding.  But, today, commercial pop music is more about the look and voice than it is about songwriting.  Music producers are far too prone to run to Taxi and buy a song or commission their favorite songwriter to write a song rather than having the singer write something.

For me, Idol would be a much more rounded show if they actually required the singers to also write all of their own material.  This would be a lot more time consuming, but requiring this would also show the true talent of the artist.  This premise would show a contestant’s ability to write music under pressure and, at the same time, perform that music admirably.  Using this model in the show would likely have changed both the contestants in the show and the outcome of the winners.  I would also have a lot more respect for the winners of the show.  I also believe the winners would have been far more commercially viable as artists than anyone Idol has, so far, produced.

Idol’s days are numbered

We are now going into the 9th season and I believe this show is wearing out its welcome.  Talent shows like this do come and go, so I expect this show go packing probably in one to two seasons.  If it lasts beyond 10 seasons, I’d be highly surprised.  I’m honestly surprised that it has survived this long with its dismal track record of spotting viable commercial talent.  Yes, the winners can sing, but can they produce an album that people want?  In 8 seasons, I’d say the answer to that question is unequivically no.  The spectacle of the live performance is great, but it doesn’t mean the contestant has what it takes to succeed in the music business. Clearly, Idol has failed at it’s primary goal.

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