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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Google Oneboxes "Stealing" Top Spot?

Is Google “stealing” the top spot when they introduce more oneboxes in search results which will keep users on their site longer? For example, when you search for The Departed, is pushed to the “second” result (depending on how you count), and the Google movie reviews onebox sits on top. This onebox leads to the Google review search engine, which again links to more sites – so you might say the top spot is now inhibited by, as it’s the first review linked to from Google Movies – and has a link titled “trailer”, which brings you straight to Google Video.

I think it goes without saying that with this type of onebox, IMDb’s “The Departed” page will see a loss in traffic and that on average, searchers will now spend longer on Then again, Google is still only doing “fair use” quoting, and keeping users on the site does not interfere with finding information – quite the opposite, the onebox and the reviews page are highly relevant. But indeed we should always remind ourselves that Google results are human-made and not, as Google often suggests, “fully automated"*. Sure, once the human-made algorithm is set out in the free, it will run automated... but the decision of choosing, say, Google Video over Apple’s movie trailers page, is not an automated one**. Given two equally suited services, it’s easy to imagine Google engineers or managers chosing their own over a competitor’s***.

* Like, “Google is objective and fully automated and does not use human editors to judge a web page’s importance” [1] or “Google’s unbiased search results continue to be produced through a fully automated process” [2] or “Our search results are generated completely objectively and are independent of the beliefs and preferences of those who work at Google” [3]. Even on the movie reviews page, you’ll be reading “The selection and placement of reviews on this page were determined automatically by a computer program” [4] – sure, but it’s equally sure a Google engineer would go and change the computer program if she perceived it would return unwanted review sites (something which she must do to create a good program, too).

**Well, at least the “trailer” link doesn’t appear to be fully automated in its source choice. Neither is it automated that Google Maps is listed before Yahoo Maps in Google’s address onebox, e.g. when searching for [san francisco, ca], or that Google News appears on top when googling [George Bush].

***And it’s almost natural that Google, by their thinking, will prefer the usability of their own related services... because their line of thinking created those related services in the first place. In this regard, it’s not even likely that Google will perceive many competition services being equally suited. Plus, keeping searchers on Google property will make sure there’s not too much of an interface and layout change, another “natural” usability bonus when choosing Google services over competitor’s services.

[Thanks Tadeusz Szewczyk!]

Correction: The “trailer” link sometimes shows Apple trailers, too. (I wasn’t 100% sure about this, hence the second footnote above; the point remains that Google makes human, editorial choices with oneboxes, e.g. Google Maps is shown before Yahoo Maps, Google News is included instead of Yahoo News – albeit the former may feature the latter! – etc.) [Thanks Ionut!]


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