Matt posts on the role of humans in Google search, prodded by a NYT story on the topic:
If you ask an average techie about Google, you’ll hear that we use lots of computers and algorithms. Indeed, the title of the New York Times article is “The Human Touch That May Loosen Google’s Grip.” But (in my opinion), it would be a mistake to think “Google is nothing but cold algorithms and computers; there’s no room for humans at all.” I’ll give you a few examples of the role of people over the years at Google:
- PageRank is fundamentally about the hyperlinks that people on the web create. All those people creating links help Google formulate an opinion of how important a page is.
- Google News looks at a wide variety of news sources; the decisions of human editors at thousands of news sites help Google estimate whether a particular story is significant.
- Google introduced voting buttons on the toolbar back in 2001. They look like happy/frowny faces and they let regular people send thumbs-up or thumbs-down votes to Google.
- Google has allowed users to remove results that they don’t like from Google.
- For more than five years, we’ve allowed users to report spam to Google. We’ve said for years that we reserve the right to take manual action on spam (e.g. if someone types in their name and gets off-topic porn as a result).
And of course, it’s not as if Google’s search engineers drive into the Googleplex in the morning and then spend the whole day sitting around doing nothing while the computers do all the work. Instead, Google researchers and engineers spend our days looking for deeper insights that will let us create the next generation of search. I believe Google’s approach to search has always been pragmatic: if an approach will improve the quality of our search, we’re open to it.
He also refers to the interview we did together last year.