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Google Granted Permission to Open Office in China?

By - May 05, 2005

GooglechinaI’ve been watching this issue for a while – nothing tests a corporate maxim such as “Don’t Be Evil” as the China Question. From Paid Content we learn that Google has been granted the right to open an office in mainland China. From the source, Interfax China:

Chinese authorities have green-lighted Google’s plans to open the company’s first office in Mainland China, which will allow the world’s largest search engine to further localize its operations, but will also significantly intensify competition in China’s online search market, analysts said.

“Google has been granted approval to open an office in China, but has not hired any staff in China yet,” a Google source told Interfax. “Google has also started operations of www.google.com.cn.”

Although Google has operated a Chinese language search engine since September of 2000, the company had previously been forced to run its China business out of an office in Hong Kong, which hindered its ability to market advertising services via its search engine to Mainland Chinese companies. Google’s businesses in China have mainly been limited to self-help advertising services such as Google AdWords and Google AdSense.

The article goes on to claim that Google has hired Victor Koo, former COO of Sohu, to head up its mainland offices. So far the only other mention I have found of this is the SF Chronicle, which ran a brief and got a “no comment” from Google.

Now, Google has not exactly crowed about these moves to me or any other press folk, and it’s entirely possible this report is inaccurate. But I don’t think it is. I have a ping into Google PR to find out more.

I saw down with Sergey in February to discuss the China question, and I found his remarks cautious and considered. I report them in the book, but given that this is breaking now, I thought you might enjoy a bit of a preview. A few tidbits from the text:

“China is a curious hybrid, a miscegenation of Leninist institutions and political structures imported and established in the 50s during the Stalin era and a more recent importation of dynamic market structures and values,” said Orville Schell, a China scholar and Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California Berkeley. “There has been great economic reform since the Maoist era, but much less political reform.”

China represents a great paradox for a democratic business culture – its political culture is repugnant, but its market is far too rich to ignore. “As businesses contemplate entering the China market and begin their processes of due-diligence, most of them have actually already made up their minds: They cannot but be in China,” Schell noted.

….

Google has not yet made this decision, at least not publicly.

For years, Google has provided millions of Chinese citizens its service in the Chinese language, but it has yet to launch an official presence in China. That means that so far, the company has not had to play by Chinese rules when it comes to censorship of its main index. It also means that for the most part, Google has been left out of China’s recent economic boom.

The text goes on to note the China/Google News tempest, earlier Chinese efforts to filter Google, and Google’s investment in Baidu, which will be its main competition, presuming it launches in China. I also note that Yahoo and others have already gone to China. But then again, they do not have such a high bar – their mottos are free of subjective statements regarding evil.

With all that in mind, I spoke with Sergey.

“We look at China with a different point of view,” Brin told me during the internationalist World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in early 2005. “A lot of companies would say ‘It’s a big market, how do we get a chunk of it.’ We want to focus on how do we do the most good.”

On the one hand, Brin said, not having Google at all would be a disservice to all Chinese users. On the other hand, a censored service does run counter to his sensibilities. “You have to weigh the odds. Corporations need to be responsible. If we wrote (the Chinese laws) then I would say we were responsible for them.”

But what of people who feel that Google is failing their expectations by not standing up to China? “I am sure at various times, various people will say that we failed their expecatations,” Brin said. “I think its a good motivation to have, and I am sure we will not be perfect to everyone at all times.”



Schell, who was my Dean at Berkeley, has some final thoughts on all of this:

“What may be most important is not the single concessionary act to China, but the precedent that this act would set for Google, namely, that the level of censorship before entry in specific markets will be negotiated on a case by case basis,” Schell concludes. “If China manages to ring out such concessions, why should not another country or even some large multi-national corporation which does not like unflattering information about it flying around the Google search universe, complain – and expect concessions?”(7)

As far as I can tell, Google is still struggling to figure out how to answer its own version of the China question. But this latest news seems to imply that a decision is certainly imminent.

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Yahoo Ups Video Search Ante

By - May 04, 2005

An updated Yahoo Video Search launches “GA” (general availability) tonight with more video content (if that sounds familiar, you were reading earlier in the week when Google added more content as well). Feeds include Buena Vista, CBS, Discovery Channel, MTV, Reuters, Scripps Networks (Home & Garden Television, The Food Network), VH1 and “Stupid Videos,” the name of which I just could not resist mentioning and linking to.

Google Accelerator

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GwaI have a new thought on the whole Google OS meme. Basically, we should move on – in many ways, it’s already happened. Recall Google’s mission – to organize the world’s information and make it accessible? Well, that’s pretty much the same mission as Microsoft had for the PC, when you think about it. The big difference was that to execute on its mission, MSFT had to build the OS. But Google just has to leverage the web. In other words, Google’s mission requires a Web OS (I know some of you hate that phrase, but it works for me), whether they build it or not. It’s a platform that must exist if their services are going to be useful.

And, ideally, that platform is responsive, which means fast. So, what to do when broadband feels less than speedy? Why, leverage your massive infrastructure and nifty algorithms to speed it up, of course. Hence the Google Web Accelerator, launched today. Once again, we Mac folks are left out, but if you’re on Windows, you’re in luck. SEW has a nice overview, from it:

GWA works to speed up the surfing process for all web sites NOT only Google by a combination of:

+ Prefetching material

In part, determined by an algorithm developed at Google that looks at

mouse movements and aggregate traffic to sites to try to determine what to prefetch

+ Caching of pages on Google’s own servers

They will also try to determine how frequently material is updated and continuously have the latest copy available on their servers. Mayer said that GWA and Google’s new search history product are completely independent of one another.

+ Parallel downloading

Download multiple parts of the page (images for example) at the same

time.

+ Differential fetching

Instead of downloading the entire page, GWA will try send only what

might have changed on the page

+ Compression

Mayer added however that GWA tries not to change the quality of images and other material

This is a cool idea – speed up the web by leveraging your own platform, which was, of course, built by search. When you download and use GWA, you don’t have to create a Google account – which I find odd, honestly, as this is a perfect excuse to tie customers more closely to Google. However, you do start to run all your web surfing habits over Google’s servers, and that, of course, makes Google something of a proxy ISP, with access to all the aggregate data that an ISP like AOL or Comcast has on you. Is that a good thing? Well, yes and no. But net net, it has implications down the road. Very soon, Google will know an awful lot about the world’s surfing habits, well beyond search. Hmmm.

Update: Over at 37 Signals, signs that the GWA ain’t such a nice net citizen.

Boing Boing Wins a Webby!

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Bb-1I’m a very proud Band Manager today: Boing Boing won another Webby this year, in fact, it won two – both the Webby award (decided by judges), as well as the People’s Voice, which was decided by a popular vote. Way to go, gang!

Noted: Google won a number of them as well, in various categories, including Best Practices.

WSJ Discovers Referral Spam

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Over at the WSJ (free link) Lee Gomes notes how spam clogs up SERPs, and then realizes that the major engines are to blame for it:

…a kind of schizophrenia exists at search-engine companies. Half their engineering staff is busy trying to keep useless pages out of search results; the other half is busy coming up with tools that make it easier for people to create and profit from the useless pages in the first place.

He’s right, of course. We all have seen the crap that lards up results, pretending to be “services” of one sort or another. Is it spam? Well, it’s clearly affiliate- and AdSense-driven sludge. At best, it’s gray. But it’s funny, lately I have to say that the big guys are doing a pretty good job of trimming this stuff out of their results. Gomes notes that he found these sites while looking for home repair information.

In setting about on these projects, I naturally planned to use the Web as a resource to not only bone up on topics like roof repair, but also to find experienced and honest local trades people to hire. How lucky we are, thought I, to be able to do spring cleaning in the age of broadband.

What I actually found online was a different story. No matter what I searched for, I ended up with a distressingly large percentage of what might be called second-generation Web spam.

In fact, I’ve been doing the same kind of searches, and on Google anyway, I’ve found that the index is surprising clear of spam for searches like “roof repair,” “new deck,” and “window replacement.” I found pretty good results on Yahoo for these terms as well.

Hat Tip: Andy.

Why Are the Second Tier Networks Failing?

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Ugly ResultsA wise source recently observed to me that to comprehend the health of the big guys, watch how the smaller ones are doing. On that measure, things are not so rosy in search land. Looksmart, Findwhat, Mamma.com, all are trending down on poor results. Why, in an age of ever expanding search and online advertising dollars, why is this happening? Could it be that they are failing to retain traffic of good intent? One might expect that even the second tier search networks are doing well. But they are not. Hmmmm.

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FastClick New Search Ad Network Debuts

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FastclickRecently public FastClick (FSTC) has been best known as a traditional ad network, but yesterday it launched text ads a la Adsense. It’s always good to see competition continue to sprout, even as the leaders consolidate their power. From MediaPost’s coverage:

Fastclick’s entry into contextual search advertising and its initial public offering announced last month are directly related, analysts speculated. “Investors are now going to look to Fastclick to make sure they have a full quiver of arrows,” said Gary Stein, a Jupiter Research analyst. “It’s important that any company can round out all of their capabilities.”

Snap Has a News Site

By - May 02, 2005

News to me….it’s driven by search, and rather interesting in that it does not try to be all things…allows you to filter by date and time, title, source, and general keyword search. Rather cool, I have to say, on first glance.