Sorry Baidu users, your search engine is down for the count (in parts of the world, anyway), at least for the time being. No, a late night watchman didn't trip over the power cord in a data center, and instead the outage appears to be the work of Iranian hackers.
Baidu, China's most popular search engine with a market share exceeding 77 percent, now shows a page saying "This site has been hacked by Iranian Cyber Army." These are the same dudes who also attacked and defaced Twitter just a few weeks ago using the same method: DSN cache poisoning.
Sounds toxic, but rest assured, no chemicals were used. DNS cache poisoning involves corrupting a DNS table by replacing an IP with a malicious address, which in this case is the Iranian Cyber Army page.
In case you missed it, Google CEO Eric Schmidt, in an interview on CNBC, seem to suggest that Google’s take on user privacy was pretty much open-ended. Schmidt said “If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place.” Some thought this was Google blaming the victim rather than the victimizer. Not the sort of ‘got-your-back’ attitude many would like to see in their search-engine provider.
In addition, Google changed its search-engine privacy settings, to better personalize the experience. One of the changes made is the storing of 180-days of search history in a browser cookie, so Google has a database on which to draw for second-guessing what you want to look for.
In all the hubbub, Mozilla’s Director of Community Development, Asa Dotzler, said that users should drop Google in favor of Bing, which Dotzler said provides better privacy guarantees.
Hot on the heels of the controversy, Bing is touting both its privacy, and changes which enhance that privacy. Bing will now give you greater control over the history of your recent searches with “See all”, “Clear all”, and “Turn Off” options. (In “See all” you can delete individual search requests. “Turn off” lets you disable the history function all together.) In addition, Microsoft will store a maximum of four weeks of searches (up from 48-hours), in a browser cookie.
In the announcement of these changes, Microsoft said “...we've tried to build privacy and respect for your search history into the overall experience and not as an afterthought. Too many systems provide us with choice, but little control.”
The Business Insider is proclaiming that “Bing Crushes Yahoo Again in November”, based on numbers released by comScore for November search-engine performance. But do the numbers reported support this bold statement of success and failure?
According to comScore, search-engine market share broke down like this: Google, 65.6%; Yahoo, 17.5%; Bing, 10.3%; Ask Network, 3.8%; and AOL, 2.8%. (AOL still exists?) This seems to indicate that Yahoo and Bing still occupy the same ordinal ranks they did in October. A little closer, perhaps, but that’s about it. And, if anything, both were crushed by Google.
Maybe it’s the change from October to November that’s the cause for the hyperbole? Google was up 0.2 percentage points, Yahoo down 0.5 percentage points, and Bing up 0.4 percentage points. Yeah, Yahoo lost ground in November, and Bing gained, but the shifts don’t seem all that dramatic. And when you consider year-to-year (Y/Y) differences, Yahoo seems about the same place it was a year ago, with its "core search volume" up 1.1%. Bing is new to the market, so it showed a more dramatic 46% Y/Y increase (even though Bing isn’t yet a year old).
Still, trends for Yahoo seem pointed down, having fallen from a 20.1% market share in May to 17.5% in November, while Bing rose from 8.0% to 10.3%. Percentage-wise those differences may be meaningful. Maybe that justifies the hand-wringing over Yahoo and back-slapping for Bing.
Before getting too excited about the impending demise of Yahoo, it would be nice to see revenue figures for it and Bing. After all, it’s not the number of people using the service that really matters, it’s how much you make off those people that counts.
It may not be flying cars and unisex clothing, but Google’s plans for the future are interesting nonetheless. Emma Barnett, of The Daily Telegraph, sat down with Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president of Search Products and User Experience, and reports back some of the things Google has in mind.
Mayer says that Google has three focuses for the future. The first is to better aggregate and integrate the various forms of media available on the internet: text, pictures, video, sound. Searches should be able to access and return results for all forms, so that users aren’t artificially limited to text (or even a particular langage). And the results should be real time (e.g, Google’s real-time web), so that information will be available the moment it’s created.
The second area of focus is mode of access. Integration of various media doesn’t make much sense if it can’t be searched on its own terms. Google Goggles is a new mode, allowing users of Android-based smartphones to capture an image and search for that image on the Internet--no text required. (To assuage privacy concerns, Goggles, at present, doesn’t do faces.)
The last area of focus is personalization. Google would like you to get what you want, and would like to see your efforts doing so minimized. Google’s search engines will ‘learn’ from individuals what information they want, and from where they want it (including more meaningful links with personal social networks). The end result will be a more individualized web experience. (And a diminishment of serendipity?)
Mayer acknowledges that privacy might be an issue, as personalization would require tracking user information for 180-days (unless the user opts-out). She adds that privacy concerns are a bit over-blown, as user information will be cookie-based, which only identifies a particular machine on the web, not a particular user. “We always follow a code of privacy--transparency, choice, and control,” said Mayer, “People can easily opt out.”
If only total dupes fall for click-through advertising on search result pages, and users of Microsoft products are the most likely to click-through, does that mean users of Microsoft products are total dupes? Logically fallacy aside, Microsoft product users might be total dupes, but not for this particular reason.
Chitika, which researches search-targeted advertising, reports that users of Microsoft products are more likely than others to click an ad on a search result page. For example, users of Bing are 75% more likely to click an ad than users of Google. And users of Internet Explorer are 50% more likely than Safari users, and 80% more likely than Chrome users to click an ad. Overall, Windows users are twice as likely as Linux and Mac users to click an ad.
So users of Microsoft products are gullible dupes--easy prey for the mavens of click-through advertising, right? Hardly. In this case the percentage differences are accurate, but the actual click-through rates for all platforms are so low the differences are probably meaningless. For example, 99.85% of Internet Explorer users don’t click-through, compared with 99.34% of Firefox users, 99.50% of Safari users, and 99.79% of Chrome users. In other words, percentage-wise, hardly anyone, regardless of browser, clicks-through. The pattern for operating systems is similar--in all three cases: Windows, Linux, and Mac, more than 99% don’t click-through.
Given the general nature of Microsoft product users--in all fairness it’s a lot more diverse a population than Linux or Mac users--Microsoft product users seem to be doing pretty well in these relative comparisons. Furthermore, there’s nothing here to suggest they are any more or less susceptible to click-through ads than anyone else.
Hard to say what point, exactly, Google CEO Eric Schmidt was trying to make in his appearance on CNBC, but his words have struck an angry cord with some in the tech community, who are now raising the question: might it be time to wean yourself from Google?
Schmidt’s transgression was to state: “If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place. If you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines--including Google--do retain this information for some time and it's important, for example, that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act and it is possible that all that information could be made available to the authorities."
Right now English is the only language realtime is available for. But Google plans to expand the number of languages to ensure relevancy remains intact. Other languages are expected to be incorporated by the first quarter of 2010.
Google’s realtime searches will include not only Twitter, but blog posts, MySpace, FriendFeed, Jaiku, Identi.ca and Facebook. Searches can be performed not only on PCs, but iPhones and Android devices.
Microsoft's revamped and rebranded search decision engine has been doing so well that you hate to see something like this happen. But in the evening hours last night, Bing fell flat on its face for about 30 minutes, during which time users were either unable to get to the site, or received incomplete results pages to queries.
"The cause of the outage was a configuration change during some internal testing that had unfortunate and unintended consequences," Satya Nadella, Senior Vice President, Online Service Division, wrote on the official Bing Team blog. "As soon as the issue was detected, the change was rolled back, which caused the site to return to normal behavior. Unfortunately the detection and rollback took about half an hour, and during that time uses were unable to use bing.com."
Nadella went on to say that they're running a post mortem to find out what improvements need to be made to their software and processes so this doesn't happen again.
Murdoch has long made it known that he deserves compensation for the content he provides online, and is actively pursuing ways to generate revenue more directly than advertising. The Wall Street Journal, for example, requires paid subscription for full access (although there are ways around this). However, the online market hasn’t been kind to those who put up such barriers. Apparently Murdoch believes that a leader is needed to make the first bold move, after which others will follow. “We will lead. There is a pent up need for this,” said Miller. There is also a pent up need for News Corp. to get its hands on a bit of the advertising revenue Google’s search engines generate, and which News Corp doesn’t share in.
Miller was dismissive of Google’s importance, at least for the News Corp.: “The traffic which comes in from Google brings a consumer who more often than not read one article and then leaves the site. That is the least valuable of traffic to us… the economic impact is not as great as you might think. You can survive without it.”
Google’s response was as expected: “Publishers put their content on the web because they want it to be found, so very few choose not to include their material in Google News and web search. But if they tell us not to include it, we don't.”
Whether News Corp can survive without Google is a question only pulling the plug will answer. It remains to be seen if News Corp. will follow through on their threat.
In what some might see as an irrelevant move in the search genre, Yahoo upgraded its search capabilities and deployed them to most of the world. They announced today on the Yahoo Search blog a slew of new features and a slick new layout for their search engine.
One key feature of the upgrade lives in the additional left column where “intelligent search results” help you to explore other relevant sites and drill-down your result set based on popular keywords. Yahoo implemented “SearchScan,” which helps protect from viruses, malware and spam. They also boasted that they have increased response and search times all over the site. You can find a full listing in detail of the upgrade deployment on the Yahoo search blog.
This might be too little too late as the justice department is inspecting an agreement to shift most Yahoo search efforts over to Microsoft. The upgrades bear striking resemblance to Bing’s results pages, perhaps this is a transitional effort.
How relevant do you think Yahoo is in the internet search industry? What do you think of Yahoo’s improvements?