Search Notes: Trying to understand Facebook's whisper campaign

Facebook's PR gaffe, the Chromebook debuts, and dreams of text-free searching.

Earlier this week, it seemed clear that the top news in the world of search would be the announcements that came out of Google I/O. But yesterday came word that Facebook had launched a “whisper” campaign against Google. While juicy gossip doesn’t completely trump shiny gadgets, it certainly holds its own.

Does Facebook know Google runs a search engine?

Yesterday, the Daily Beast told the story of how Facebook had hired a PR firm to pitch anti-Google stories to reporters and bloggers. Facebook wanted the world to be just as outraged as they are about Google’s invasion of our privacy — wait, what?

It seems that the crux of Facebook’s argument was that Google organizes information about people and makes it easily accessible through its search results. (I’m fairly sure Google isn’t keeping this particular feature secret.)

Facebook focused on Google’s “Social Circle” results. In a statement, Facebook said:

We wanted third parties to verify that people did not approve of the collection and use of information from their accounts on Facebook and other services for inclusion in Google Social Circles — just as Facebook did not approve of use or collection for this purpose.

The PR firm Facebook hired had previously sent emails trying to drum up reporter interest. Accusations included:

Google’s robots scour the web for people’s social connections on different websites. These connections are then stored in a collection people’s connections on different websites. This collection is then mined, creating connections between people on different websites, that those people never intended and can’t control.

Google Social Circles automatically enables people to trace their contacts’ connections and profile information by crawling and scraping the sites you and your contacts use, like Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, Yelp, Yahoo and many others, likely in direct violation of the Terms of Service for those sites, unless those sites have partnered with Google on this “service,” something else users ought to be aware of.

Google is a search engine. Its entire purpose is to enable users of the Internet to navigate the web’s content in a structured way. Any site that doesn’t want to make its content available to search engines can simply indicate as such in a robots.txt file. Or pages can be made even more private by placing them behind a login.

Facebook’s CTO and COO both previously worked at Google, so one assumes they have an understanding of how search engines work.

In 2007, Facebook decided they were pretty interested in having Google’s robots “scour” their profile pages so those pages would be easily available to Google searchers (and in turn Facebook could get more traffic).

Danny Sullivan over at Search Engine Land goes through the details of exactly what Google is indexing and how, but the bottom line is that search engines index the public web. Social networks and other sites have an established way to opt out.

The Chromebook arrives

The Samsung 5 3G Chromebook
The Samsung 5 3G Chromebook.

And now, on to the gadgets! At Google I/O this week, Google announced its new Chrome laptops. Part tablet and part computer, the Chromebooks are instant-on, 3G -enabled, and they have tons of battery life. The drawback? You can’t run traditional client applications on them. This is cleverly noted as a benefit in the Chromebook announcement:

At the core of each Chromebook is the Chrome web browser. The web has millions of applications and billions of users. Trying a new application or sharing it with friends is as easy as clicking a link. A world of information can be searched instantly and developers can embed and mash-up applications to create new products and services. The web is on just about every computing device made, from phones to TVs, and has the broadest reach of any platform. With HTML5 and other open standards, web applications will soon be able to do anything traditional applications can do, and more.

Maybe so, but as of right now, Google Docs just doesn’t offer the things I need to do in Excel and Powerpoint.

Google music and movies

Google’s goal of “organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible” has made its way into movies and music. You can now rent movies on YouTube (3,000 titles for now) and Google is finally launching its music product, although at the moment you can only upload your collection and stream it.

Beyond text search

Google GogglesThe future of search, in the short term, is about moving beyond textual input (the search box) and textual results (web pages). On the input side, Google has launched a new version of Google Goggles (which uses visual input). I love the idea of Goggles, which lets you point at things to search for information about them.

On the output side, Google has launched a kind of street view for the interiors of stores.

One day, this will all be connected. As I’m walking down the street and see a girl wearing a cute skirt, I’ll be able to point my phone at it and find a store that has the skirt hanging on a rack for sale. Ah, the future.


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