free html hit counter September 2004 - Page 7 of 9 - John Battelle's Search Blog

Perfect Search

By - September 08, 2004

sciamperfectsearch.jpg(image from Scientfic American – thanks ID:entity)

I am writing the final chapter of my book (no, not the last…just the last one, I’m writing them out of order, don’t ask….)

In any case, I got the utterly lazyweb idea of asking all the folks I’ve interviewed, in particular the professional thinkers and Big Idea folks, the relatively simple question of: What might the world look like if we had perfect search?

Now, in the process of putting the book together, I’ve been mining my blog quite a lot, and I’ve noticed that the comments section is always better than my posts. As Dan says, our readers always know more.

So I thought I’d ask you guys to indulge me once again. Here’s the email I sent out:


Battelle here, contacting you one last time about search (well, perhaps not the last, but at least I’m close.) The last chapter of my book is entitled “Perfect Search”, in it I run through the many developments in search which might lead us to the Holy Grail – a perfect (or at least the best possible) answer to every question.

From the early draft, I write:

Imagine the ability to ask any question and get not just an accurate answer, but your perfect answer – an answer that suits the context and intent of your question, an answer that is informed by who you are and why you might be asking. The engine providing this answer is capable of incorporating all the world’s knowledge to the task at hand – be it captured in text, video, or audio. It’s capable of discerning between straightforward requests – who was the third president of the United States? – and more nuanced ones – under what circumstances did the third president of the United States foreswear his views on slavery?

This perfect search also has perfect recall – it knows what you’ve seen, and can discern between a journey of discovery – where you want to find something new – and recovery – where you want to find something you’ve seen before.

That’s a long way from the typical search engine of today, but imagining such a service no longer falls in the realm of science fiction. It’s the stated goal of nearly major player in IT today – be it IBM, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Amazon, and scores of others.

I then go on (and on…) describing various interesting forays into creating more perfect search – domain specific, federated, semantic, personal, local, etc. etc. etc.

But the real payoff is toward the end. This is where I want to stretch out and imagine a world where perfect search exists, and conjure up the implications of such a place. What opportunities arise when knowledge can be so easily gathered? What threats? How might this change our social structures, our politics, our economy?

I am sending this note to a special set of thinkers and visionaries with whom I have conversed in the course of writing this book, and beyond. Because you have suffered me to date, I ask you to suffer me once more, so that I might gather your insight, and those of your peers, into a special section of the book.

Please accept my thanks in advance for asking this of you, any response, no matter how trivial or considered, will be most appreciated and recognized.

My best,



So, what do you think?

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Growing Pains in the SEM Industry

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sempoAndy points me to Danny’s lengthy review of the trials and tribulations of SEMPO, an organization founded at Danny’s August 2003 SEW conference to further the search marketing industry. I was at that event, and as they announced it, I wondered if they could ever agree on anything, from a code of ethics for SEM/SEO members, to how the board would work, to dues. Well, the truth is, no, they have had some trouble.

The organization is a reflection of the scattered and still immature state of the search marketing industry. When I was researching my “Search Economy” chapter I contacted the group and asked them why they did not have a standards or principles policy, something that all members would agree to. Given the sometimes shady practices in SEM/SEO (link farms, etc.) I figured this would have been a no brainer. (No one responded to me – though with authors this happens a lot, and I didn’t take it as a sign of anything at the time.) In his post, Danny brings this up, and notes SEMPO is reviewing the issue. I’d strongly urge them to act. They don’t have to police the world, that’s not the point. The point is, whoever joins SEMPO, agrees to act by some basic fair play rules. That’s not policing, that’s common sense. It’ll be good for the industry, good for SEMPO, and good for search.

Andrew Goodman also has some words on this here….

AdSense Update

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Well, so far, no response from Mike at Google, save what I updated in the previous post. I did just now get an answer to my tech question, in two days – not bad for a company with millions of such questions, I guess. Long and short: It sometimes takes up to 48 hours for Google to index new posts.

In the meantime, readers have pointed me to many sites with non-compliant wording above their AdSense ads, including at least one that has “Paying the Bills” as its header, just as I did. I’m not going to name them, as that might get them busted too. I have also learned, through reputable sources, that Mike from Google is in fact a person, though clearly he’s employing cut and paste email forms.

Which makes me wonder about consistency with a service as vast as AdSense. The site with the same offending title as mine has clearly been around a long time, but I got dinged in the first 24 hours of life. Why? I doubt there’s any clear answer to that, and that, for a company which prides itself on algorithmic distance and evenhandedness, is an inconsistency that should be addressed.

One last note: As predicted by many of my pals, from my reports, it doesn’t seem like my site is ideal for AdSense. The ads don’t change much and focus on the same thing – blogging and ad networks, for the most part. Why don’t more SEM/SEO companies show up, I wonder? The endemic advertisers seem unable to find me. Ah well, we’ll see how it goes….

UPDATE: Was contacted today (Friday the 10th) by a real person at Google, Joel, who was very nice and had this to say:

I apologize for not getting in touch with you sooner.

I can assure you, your case was handled by a human being. In order to
protect our publishers by keeping a high quality of network as well as
protecting our advertisers interests, we take all of our policy violations
seriously. Because we have such a large volume of publishers, it is hard to
negotiate minor infractions and we sometimes give somewhat robotic replies.
We are constantly working on improving how we handle these cases. And yes,
we are also scrutinizing our policies to make sure we are doing what is best
for our advertisers, web publishers and the viewers of these ads.

With regards to labeling ads, we could not have an open ended policy that
only restricts certain language around the ads. Instead, we have come up
with a short list of allowed language. Unfortunately, “Paying the bills” is
not one of them. For your readers that would like to support you, this
brings attention to the fact that if they click on the ads they will help
you pay your bills. This can quite possibly lead to readers clicking just
because they want to make you money, with no interest in what is on the
other side of the link. This is not good for our advertisers or the AdSense
network as a whole.

Nice to get the human touch. Thanks, Google.

That Dang Macintosh

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XIt’s hard to know, as a Mac user, what to think about the software world these days. Many innovations are, understandably, only built for Windows. But wasn’t the web supposed to change all that, make OSes secondary, less relevant? Problem is, if you have to download client software, folks don’t like writing for the Mac’s tiny installed base. But the folks who do use the Mac have always been early adopters and influencers, at least, that what Nat Torkington points out. I noticed in his post that I was the only person among a very long list of very smart geeks (caveat: I consider myself unqualified for those modifying adjectives, as well as the noun) who he reads who blogged either FareChase or Picasa. Why? Because all the others use Mac OSX, and can’t use those services. Interesting point. I blog those services because I sense my readers might be interested in them. But alpha geeks only blog that which they can touch.

My First Day WIth AdSense: Battelle Gets Busted

By - September 07, 2004

prisonWell, Day one with AdSense has been a learning experience, but that’s why I decided to try it, right? Noontime brought this email into my box from Google:

Subject: Google AdSense – Program Policies

Hello John,

It has recently come to our attention that you’re encouraging your website
users to click on the Google ads you’re serving through AdSense. This
activity – which can artificially inflate AdWords advertiser costs – is
prohibited by our program Terms and Conditions

We request that you remove the following language from your website:

“Paying the Bills”

If you wish to keep text above the Google ads on your page, you must
replace the above text with “Sponsored Links” or “Advertisements”.

Thank you for your understanding. Once you’ve made the appropriate
changes, please reply to this email so that we can review your site again.


The Google Team

Hmmm, I thought to myself. Was “Paying the Bills” really encouragement? So I replied:

I’m not encouraging anything. I’m clearly labeling the commercial area of my site as such. It’s my voice and my site. I politely request you take another look at this and think about it in context of the site, and review your request.

I then thought about it some more, and added:

And besides, there is no consistency on other sites. Over at Fred’s blog (, he calls your stuff “Google Adsense” which is neither “Sponsored Links” nor is it “Advertisements”. Can I do that?

Came the rather robotic reply:

Hello John,

Thank you for your questions. We ask that if you wish to place text above
the Google ads on your site, please include either “Sponsored Links” or
“Advertisements”. This wording more clearly describes your association
with these ads, and ensures consistency for your users’ experience.

With regard to , thank you very much for
bringing this issue to our attention. I have forwarded your finding on to
our team of specialists for further investigation.

Once you’ve made this change, please respond to this email so that we may
review your site again. This will enable us to update your account records
to indicate that you are in compliance with our program policies.


The Google Team

Yikes! I had now gotten my buddy Fred in trouble (and I was not “in compliance,” which I think means I’m not getting paid…). This sucks! So I shot off this (most likely too strongly worded) missive:


First, it sucks that you’re going to come down on Fred because I told you about it. Please don’t.

Second, did you even review what I wrote? I asked you to review my wording, “Pay the Bills,” as it reflects the voice I use to describe the commercial area of my blog. I really resent the stated assertion that I am “encouraging my website users to click on the Google ads you’re serving through AdSense” – which I am in no way doing. I ask you recant that statement, as it’s rather damning and completely false.

And third, I think you guys could learn a bit about the sphere you currently dominate – blogs. It’s all about voice, and voice means people, and people listen to each other and find compromises. So far, I’m not seeing any of this from you guys.

Please respond to these questions, and give me something that shows you’re a person, not an automated bot. I’d be more than happy to have a phone conversation with you, I imagine one quick call would be a far more efficient use of people time at this point.



No response so far, though, as you probably have noticed, I *DID* change the title over on the right to “Sponsored Links.” Why? Couple reasons. One, I don’t want my AdSense learnings to end in one just day, and second, well, I thought maybe if I showed them *I* can compromise, they’ll in fact review my request and be open to my wording, and then I’ll change it back. After all, I suppose I am in technical violation of their policy, as stated here:


Web pages may not include incentives of any kind for users to click on ads. This includes encouraging users to click on the ads or to visit the advertisers’ sites as well as drawing any undue attention to the ads. This activity is strictly prohibited in order to avoid potential inflation of advertiser costs. For example, your site cannot contain phrases such as “click here,” “support us,” “visit these links,” or other similar language that could apply to any ad, regardless of content.

I guess “Paying the Bills” does “apply to any ad”. Anyway. It’s not that it’s such a big deal, it’s that … well…my interaction so far has made me feel like Google doesn’t really understand who I am, or what my site is about. And that, as I have mused in the past, is what is wrong with most ad networks in the first place.

Lastly, I also sent a technical email to the AdSense folks late last night, as some of the ads are not showing up on my permalink pages. No response on that so far…

Net net, my AdSense experience to date has been less than good. But I’m optimistic it will get better. I’ve read many posts about folks grumping that AdSense is inflexible, and now I kind of understand what they’re talking about. On the other hand, I grok why Google must have policies in place – and why allowing exceptions is difficult. Sometimes, however, it’s the policy that must change.

In any event, this is great fun, learning what it’s like to be an AdSense publisher. Can’t wait for the next response!

UPDATE: Got a response, which makes me quite convinced that I’m talking to a robot:

Hello John,

Thank you very much for making the requested changes to your account in
order to comply with our policies. This will contribute to your ongoing
success with Google AdSense and ensure consistency for your users’

Please feel free to email us at if you have
additional questions or concerns. For technical support, please email


The Google Team

Thanks for all the comments. Yes, I should be nicer, and yes, I should realize I’m dealing with the front line troops here. Will do.

IDG's Blunt Instrument

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Rear_View_MirrorNow granted, I might have my own rather biased reasons to beat a tired old horse, but really, Loosely Coupled nails it in this post about IDG’s deep linking policies. They are blunt, dumb, and tone deaf. I understand that there may be cases where others are making hay off your content and you have to respond (I deal with this from time to time at Boing Boing), but this policy is not the answer.

In short, IDG’s policy states: You may not link to our site if you sell ads on your site or you charge a subscription fee to use or access your site. So I just broke the policy by linking to them, I guess, now that I take AdSense. Loosley Coupled notes they’ve broken the policy about 1,000 times. In this world of personal media, its nothing short of ridiculous to ask folks to NOT link to your content. It’s suicide.

(Thanks, Dan)

Google Turns Six

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6th_birthday_resultsToday Google is celebrating its sixth year with a modified logo. It’s a milestone for any company, but a major one for an internet play. This year marks Yahoo’s tenth birthday, and Ask’s eighth, and AOL’s…er…well AOL is like 20 something now. We’re getting grayer…congrats Google.

Yahoo to Debut FareChase Implementation

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farechaseWell that didn’t take long! Not a month after I (sort of) broke the story that Yahoo bought travel search engine FareChase, its going live with a first iternation of

Mind you, this will not be live until tonight, and is a “prototype,” so Yahoo wants you all to break it for them, then tell them what you broke, thank you very much.

From the note from Yahoo’s PR folk: “The prototype will enable Yahoo! to conduct research to determine the best way to deliver a more comprehensive and relevant online travel search user experience. During the test phase, users can provide the critical feedback necessary for developing an effective travel search engine.”

Unfortunately, I can’t test this, as it’s limited (for now) to Windows systems.

Now, once again, with gusto: what do you think the state of play is between Yahoo and their current travel partner, Travelocity? Rather like Yahoo and Google before Yahoo brought search inhouse?

Google Starts Pushing Picasa

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picasaadNoticed that Google is pushing Picasa in advertisements at the bottom of all image searches. Seems like a rather tentative approach, IMHO. Clearly he who gets metadata attached to photos first, wins. Stewart, what do you think of all this?

Searchblog's New Look, Ad Update

By - September 06, 2004

currencyAs you may have noticed by now (or sometime soon, as servers update), Searchblog has a new look. While I’d like to take all the credit for this (I will take all the blame), all due plaudits go to Scot Hacker, my webmaster, who rocks. (If any of you want amazing hosting with truly personal service, you should check out In any case, Scot suggested my color scheme was getting a bit tired, so we spruced it up with the new greens. Also, we went to three columns, which I rather like.

Speaking of green, you will notice my great Searchblog Ad Experiment has begun. I am starting, after listening to a lot of your input, with the easiest and most ubiquitous solution of them all, AdSense. I expect to try this out for a while as a level set, then try others as we go along. AdSense does not allow you to place any other kinds of ads besides AdSense on the page (except for hand rolled sponsorships), but others will, so I’m starting with AdSense and moving to the others – I expect to try out MarketBanker, BlogAds, and Kanoodle, if they’ll have me.

Yes, I was worried about accepting checks from Google even while writing the book, but the fact is, I’m not really expecting to make a lot of money here, and the firsthand experience will allow me to write about this stuff in a more thoughtful manner. If the money comes in faster than my expenses running the site, I will be donating a significant portion of it to my favorite charity: My kids’ school, where I am a trustee.

Thanks to all who helped me grok this move, and supported it. And please, send feedback on the new look, and whether the ads are bumming you out, to the comments below or, alternatively, to my email at jbat at battellemedia dot com.