Despite growing competition from Yahoo and Microsoft, Google’s search index still contains three times as many documents as any other search engine, claimed Marissa Mayer, the company’s vice president for search products and user experience. She added that the company is continually improving its ranking algorithms, with the aim of making the “right” result appear at the top of every results list; that searches are faster, thanks to large investments in the company’s data centers around the world; and that the information presented in searches is becoming easier to navigate and use.
“You probably haven’t seen as many articles recently about Google’s speed and relevance as you have about Google Maps,” Mayer said. “But we’re going to continue to provide innovation and drive to make our search the best it can possibly be.”
The company itself has contributed to the purported imbalance in coverage. Google has rolled out new services and technologies in quick succession – Google News, Gmail, Google Toolbar, Google Desktop, Google Earth, Google Maps, Google Calendar, Google Talk, and the Google Video Store. So an observer might be forgiven for wondering whether engineers at the company had grown bored with serving up plain-old search results.
But executives countered this impression. “You reporters tend to focus on the outer reaches of the Google solar system, not the 70 percent,” said Jonathan Rosenberg, senior vice president for product management, referring to Google’s “70-20-10” rule: technical staff are encouraged to spend 70 percent of their time working on Google’s core business, 20 percent on related ideas, and 10 percent dreaming up blue-sky projects.
Alan Eustace, Google’s vice president of engineering, walked attendees through the treacherous problems involved in Web searching, including the ongoing proliferation of search spam – advertising sites designed to trick search engines into assigning them a high ranking – and the expansion of the Web itself. Some 10 to 20 percent of the material that Google’s web crawler finds every month wasn’t there a month before, Eustace said.
Engineers are continually tweaking Google’s algorithms to make the most relevant results appear first, Eustace said. The improvements are “typically small,” he said, “but we have big expectations…We’ve got one chance to make you very happy, and we’ve got billions and billions of chances to make you very unhappy. We want everyone to be able to click ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ every single time.”
But Google cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who took reporters’ questions at the end of the press event, couldn’t help talking about the company’s forays outside the search world. Asked to comment on the Google’s faceoff with Microsoft as it provides new browser-based alternatives to traditional desktop software, Page said that Google doesn’t focus directly on competing with the Redmond, WA, software giant, but that users could expect to see more such innovations in the future.
“We don’t think about it as, ‘How do we replace the thing people are using,’” said Page. ”We think about ‘How can we make things better.’ Over time we will do more of that.” Coming soon: Google’s reworking of Writely, an online word processor it acquired with its purchase of Silicon Valley startup Upstartle.