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Google Instant Isn't Opinion, Apparently?

By - December 13, 2010


I was just reading this piece from Fast Company: Top Google Engineer: Google Instant Has No Brand Bias, and this quote struck me:

“What we do at Google and what we’ve done for years is to not inject any subjectivity into these algorithms,” says Amit Singhal, Google Fellow and head of the company’s search quality, ranking, and algorithm team. “We didn’t want to introduce any bias into the mathematical modeling–our modeling is predicting, given a letter, what’s the probability of completion.

Singhal is speaking about Google Instant, which has apparently accused of bias in its suggested search algorithm. I believe he’s speaking the truth – that when it comes to whatever is suggested, it’s pretty much all math, save a few human-coded exceptions around porn, etc.

But the problem Google has is that when it says one thing about one algorithm, it resonates around all others. This is the curse of PageRank – one ring to rule them all, at least in the minds of most consumers. And in that sense, it directly contradicts Google’s take on the “objectivity” of algorithms, as I discussed here. In short, it’s in Google’s interest to say algorithms are protected speech (opinions), and therefore protected by the First Amendment.

Apparently, that doesn’t apply to Google Instant. Hmmm.

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4 thoughts on “Google Instant Isn't Opinion, Apparently?

  1. aaron wall says:

    What drives search demand? Often advertising. Who spends the most buying ads? Big brands.

    Thus those suggestions *were* paid for, though indirectly.

  2. Joel says:

    I believe Google’s legal argument is that their algorithm IS their opinion. Their opinion is that signals like page titles, inbound links, etc tell them which pages are important, and how those factors are weighted is their opinion (subjective.)

    At the same time, the algo is objective because it is applied to all site similarly. They are not hand-choosing this site over that site – they’re just using their opinion to determine which signals are most relevant in determining how to deliver the best search results.

    Subjective and objective at the same time, yes it is, but I think it’s legit.

  3. Joel says:

    To clarify my previous comment: I believe the *creation* of the algorithm is subjective (and therefore at their discretion to modify), but the *application* of the algorithm is objective. Google puts their opinion into the creation of the algo, but they (supposedly) put no opinion into how that algo is applied.

  4. Ojus says:

    I agree with Aaron there!