Over the past 40 years, the field of behavioral economics has emerged to explain why humans make irrational decisions. We talk with one of the pioneers of the field to find out what’s behind the choices we make, and how we can use this knowledge for good.
Search engines connect Internet users to oceans of information on the World Wide Web. But many users don’t effectively use available search tools to find what they’re looking for. Google’s Daniel Russell studies the “anthropology” of searches and how Internet users deploy tools like Google. He joins us to share what Google learns from its users and how the company builds tools around their needs.
- Dan Russell Senior Research Scientist, Search Quality & User Happiness, Google (aka: Google's Director of User Happiness)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's Tech Tuesday. Stop for a minute to consider what your Internet searches look like from an anthropological perspective. What kind of information are you looking for most often? How do you try to get it? Are you Googling things from your phone 24/7? When do you give up when things get hard?
MR. KOJO NNAMDIDaniel Russell has dedicated his professional life to studying the human behavior behind our most basic Internet searches and how to make us better at finding the things we're looking for on the Web, a task that only seems simple on the surface, but one that involves combing through an ocean of information that's expanding every millisecond, a task that's evolving as fast as the Internet's evolving every moment of the day. Daniel Russell joins us in studio. He is the uber tech lead for search quality and user happiness at Google. Dan Russell, good to see you again.
MR. DAN RUSSELLHi there, Kojo.
NNAMDII used to think my job title was cool, host of "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." And then I saw your job title, uber tech lead for search quality and user happiness. But, from your perspective, those two things are intimately linked, searching skill and happiness. People, who can search better, get better grades, find the best deals for Blu-ray DVD players, read the most up-to-date news. How would you describe the relationship between our searching skills and our happiness?
RUSSELLYou're right. That's my job. And so I talk to a lot of folks about how they do Google searches. And, mostly, it kind of works. This is the amazing thing about Google. You go and you type a few words, and you get a bunch of results. And, mostly, they're happy. The interesting part comes when they're not happy. And what do you then? When you're looking for something that's an obscure topic or something that's -- you're trying to do a complex shopping task, say, you really want to get the best deal.
RUSSELLHow do you know when you got the best deal? How do you know when you got to the bottom of the information pool? So that's really what I'm interested in, is how do we get people from places where they're unhappy to places where they're happy, and they got the answer they really need.
NNAMDILet's ask people. How would you rate your own Googling skills? 800-433-8850. What would you like to improve upon when it comes to how you search for information on the World Wide Web? You can call us at 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet at #TechTuesday, email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or simply go to our website and join the conversation with Dan Russell there. Our website, of course, is kojoshow.org. It's important to note, Dan, that you do see searching as a skill, something people can be better at and something a lot of people need to improve upon.
RUSSELLThat's right. That's right. One of the things, I think, we all have to realize is, even though something is very simple or you're very good at it, doesn't mean you can't get better at it. For example, we all can drive reasonably well, some better than others, but very few of us can actually drive, say, formula one racing cars down the court -- the racetrack at Monte Carlo. We just can't do that.
NNAMDIYes. It is, however, a dream.
RUSSELLIt -- you can dream it. But what my point is that, even for something like that, you can learn to be better. You can be a better driver. You can be a better reader. You can be a better consumer of your information, or you can learn how to use the world's most powerful tool more effectively. And that's really what a big part of my job is, is going out and teaching people you can be better at this, and here's how to do it. It's not that hard. You just need to know a few things.
NNAMDIPerhaps it's best that we work with some concrete examples of searches here. Your team has actually launched something called Google a Day. It's a daily challenge for people to find out pieces of searchable information. Here's today's question: It's June 1, and you leave America's largest independent city on foot bound for the biggest little city in the world. What day will you arrive if you walk nonstop?
NNAMDII've gotten as far as identifying the two cities, haven't -- because I had other stuff to do this morning, haven't gotten as far as the distance and how long it would take me to walk it. But would you put that kind of question in front of a -- when you put that question in front of a typical Google user, what are the kinds of things that person is likely to know about how they can use search tools to find an answer?
RUSSELLWell, you're right. That's my site -- very happy with it. It's doing pretty well. And it -- this is actually a really good question because one of the things it teaches you is that if you use Google Maps, you can click on the button that says driving directions. So, for example, a couple weeks ago, we asked a question that asks, how long would it take you to walk from one place to another?
RUSSELLThere's also a button for walking directions. So one of the things you have to know is in Google Maps, there's this capability. So part of my big task is to help people understand what's possible 'cause if you know what's possible, you can think about the world differently. Think about the world differently, you can ask better questions.
NNAMDILike, why is Washington, D.C. not an independent city because an independent city is defined as a city that is not related to a large jurisdiction like a county? Washington, of course, is District of Columbia, a concept which I will ask you to look up on Google if you don't quite understand why Washington is not an independent city. What do you find are some of the things that users typically overlook or don't know how to do? I read that you've been surprised by how little people use the control F functions on their keyboards to search within pages.
RUSSELLRight. That's a big one. So I'll tell you the story behind that. I was doing a field interview with someone in L.A., and it turns out they ended up on a very long page -- hundreds of pages long. And they were looking for one item, one four-letter item in that whole long document. Twenty minutes later, they still hadn't found it. And I'm sitting there...
NNAMDI'Cause they're scouring the document.
RUSSELLExactly. 'Cause they're going line by line for hundreds and hundreds of lines, and so I finally realized they didn't know this fundamental trick, which is the control F function.
NNAMDIControl F, yeah.
RUSSELLOr edit find depending on the browser. And so I showed this to her, and she realized, all of a sudden, it changes the way she reads stuff online. It's important to know the same trick, this control F, find a piece of text, works not only in your browser but also in most of your major applications. So your text editor, your spreadsheet, all those things, it works there. And it really changes the ability to find something, but it also gives you the ability to show that something is not there, OK?
RUSSELLSo if someone says, oh, I ran this 10K race, you can go look in the race results. Their name is not there. You can show that they -- well, they're fudging their story a little bit.
NNAMDII never even thought of that use of it.
RUSSELLIt's important to realize it's one of the few times in your life when you can prove the negative, prove that something's not there. How often do you get that chance in life?
NNAMDIYou did not run in that race. Our guest is Daniel Russell. He is the uber tech lead for search quality and user happiness at Google. It's Tech Tuesday. You can send us a tweet at #TechTuesday or call 800-433-8850. Do you notice when Google changes the ways its products work? When was the last time you noticed that Google changed its maps feature or its news search, and what caught your eye? 800-433-8850. And what kind of sense do most people have for what makes for a searchable question? Clearly, there's a difference between what's the capital of Honduras and what ended the Cold War?
RUSSELLRight. Those are really different questions. And what I find is that people are really good about using Google for the capital of Honduras or, you know, when is the next solar eclipse or what's the weather outside tomorrow, that kind of question, very simple fact-finding questions. They're also good at navigating to a particular place. So if I want to get a website, I type in the name of the website, even if I get it spelled quite -- not quite right. It still fixes it.
RUSSELLBut for more complex questions that need sort of be broken down into parts, that's harder. One of the really interesting thing is, when you get a -- like, a question like what are the five primary causes of the Civil War? Then it gets more complicated 'cause you have to figure out, well, what's the cause? What would you count as a cause? What do you believe is a believable site? What kind of content would you actually want to use in that report you need to write by tomorrow night?
NNAMDISpeaking of reports needed to write by tomorrow night, let's go to Ian in Washington, D.C. Ian, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
IANHey, Kojo, nice talking with you. I love the show. And this is a fascinating topic. And just listening over the phone, I heard that control F function, and that's very pertinent to what I'm about to discuss.
IANSo, aside from my everyday use of Google to find times or weather or something like that, I also am heavily involved in computer science. And when writing code or doing a homework assignment, you know, I don't reference a textbook. I use Google. And just in finding those websites, it searches through the forums in which people post it directly to a user base community. And then I have access to that dialogue and then can access the information that I want, once again, using that control F function.
IANAnd I don't buy textbooks anymore. All the information is out there that I need. And it's also up-to-date and helps me in ways I can download certain applications to help me out with this. I can download compilers. I can do whatever I want.
NNAMDISo what you're saying here, Ian, is that you can basically go back to undergraduate school and get through without ever buying a textbook?
IANYeah, never, and my friend actually just came back from a semester abroad in -- someplace in South America. It's killing me now. And they're in a developing country, and they don't have the same publishing capacities that we have in the United States. So they have all their textbooks available on PDFs and downloads. And you can use --- once again, in the changes within the PDF architecture, you can actually search through the PDF for text.
RUSSELLYeah. You know, there's a really good story about this. I've got to tell you. I used to teach artificial intelligence, and part of that class in graduate school in the West Coast -- and part of that class involved writing a program, say, to do a process called alpha-beta search while over a game space. And I was teaching this class pre-Google, and then I remember when Google came online because the students would come back with the assignment done in a day.
RUSSELLIt previously took two weeks. And I thought, oh, man, something is changing here. Something really fundamental is changing. So I actually stopped teaching that for a couple years. And now, I -- when I teach, I teach very differently. Your point is exactly right. If you're writing code, you're trying to do something complex like this, man, Google is your friend. You can look that stuff up very, very quickly.
RUSSELLIt also -- it's an interesting point about the content online because -- some of the textbooks that you'll find online are actually pirated. So you want to be a little careful about that. If you care about copyright, if you care about intellectual property, you want to be a little wary of where that stuff is coming from, not necessarily because you're going to be wrong, but, you know, you probably want to try to give, you know, the publishers and so on their due credit.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Ian. You, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. If it makes people feel better about their searching skills, it might be good to know that the challenge of searching is evolving literally every second. The amount of information on the Internet is growing and growing. I think I read that more than 48 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. How do you respond to that challenge from the perspective of someone who builds a search tool?
RUSSELLYou know, that's an interesting point. I don't know if it's 48 hours today. It might be 50. I don't know the number. The important point there is the rate of updates, the rate of stuff being created, the rate of new ideas is increasing. The other thing that's changing -- and it's a challenge for us -- is that there are new media, new genres of documents, new kinds of stuff being developed all the time.
RUSSELLPodcasts, as an idea, didn't really exist 10 years ago. Now, of course, they're everywhere. There are new media kinds being created all the time. From Google's perspective, we have to both discover those things, figure out how to index them, so that when you type something you want for your search result, you actually can find it. So it's a constant discovery process for us, and it's a really exciting time to be in publishing in general.
NNAMDIBut where does search speed fit into the bigger picture when it comes to user happiness?
RUSSELLYeah, that's a -- you know...
NNAMDIWe've grown very impatient, Dan.
RUSSELLWe have, we have. Who's got 10 seconds to wait? You know, I don't.
RUSSELLSo one of the things that we're really focused on at Google is making sure that we get the results back to you in just a fraction of a second. You might notice when you do a Google query, we'll say 20 million results, .03 seconds. That's 300 milliseconds, a third of a second. I can't even turn the page over in my book that fast. So we work really hard to make that true so that every query runs very, very quickly.
RUSSELLWe found that when we introduced delays, even 100 milliseconds, 200 milliseconds, which is pretty tiny pieces of time, that that fundamentally changes the way people work. You wouldn't believe it 'cause it's imperceptible, but that's sort of one the nature -- natures of my job, is that we have to figure out how these otherwise imperceptible changes really affect human behavior.
NNAMDIIs that what you call the cycle time of intellectual activity? It's my understanding you've paid close attention to that because that's what's involved with searches. Why is this significant?
RUSSELLWell, the cycle time actually happens at many different time scales, so there is the millisecond by millisecond. For example, the way your eyes move across the page. So your eyes might rest on a single word for 250 milliseconds, just a quarter of a second, and then go on to the next word. So we tailor things like the way the spacing between the results is moved up and down or the size of the font in order to get those very fast kinds of updates, very fast cycles.
RUSSELLThere's also cycles at the sense of minutes or hours when you're trying to solve a complex problem. Five causes of the Civil War, you're not going to do that in one query. You're not going to do that in two minutes. It might take you a couple days. So we're trying to fix -- we're trying to support -- we're trying to make all those cycle times better, shorter, more efficient for you.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. It's Tech Tuesday. We're talking with Daniel Russell. He is the uber tech lead for search quality and user happiness at Google. And taking your calls at 800-433-8850, or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Send us a tweet at #TechTuesday. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our Tech Tuesday conversation with Daniel Russell. He is the uber tech lead for search quality and user happiness at Google. We'll take your calls for Dan Russell at 800-433-8850. We'll start with Tom in Rockville, Md. Tom, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TOMOK. I have been searching for things like extensive information about musician's catalogs and their discographies. And when I search for them, I often find stuff that's irrelevant. And I wanted to know if there's a function -- you know, the way you have Google set up, if you want to find images, you go to image.google.com, or if you want to find maps, you go to maps.google.com and, you know, you'll find a map of where you're looking for.
TOMAnd there's other kinds of documents where -- like, you were -- because I was on the phone, I didn't quite hear what you were saying. But you said something about podcasts. If you're looking for a podcast, you would put in that you're looking for a podcast, and it's going to find you only podcasts. Or if you're looking for MP3s or, you know, sound files, you would put in that I'm looking for a sound file and this is the information -- you know, this is the way you would indicate the specific file I'm looking for. Do you have that function, or is that something -- that's an addition I'd like to see.
RUSSELLYou know, when you're looking for particular kind of result like that, kinds of discographies or biographical information about artists, it is sometimes hard, partly because there's a big industry dedicated to making sure you get their particular off-topic results. And so, you know -- and so it's a little tricky. So what I would use in a case like this is -- you mentioned put in the word podcast when you're looking for a podcast by a particular artist. That, I call a context term. That is, it's maybe not -- I don't -- it's maybe not a term I want to find specifically.
RUSSELLBut it kind of gives me the flavor of the kinds of results I want to find. So adding the word, you know, artist name and then adding the word, like, discography or biography or one of those phrase -- those terms like that, that, I think, is going to help out. I don't know if you're just putting in the artist name. That's a little too little. That's not quite enough to be discriminating.
RUSSELLSo I think what you want to do is figure out what words appear on the page of the ideal result. What would that be like? Do you want to know, for example, about the artists' early life? In which case, you might look for early life or their musical training or other bands they've been associated with. I'd add in additional words like that, but not too many. Keep it fairly short. Try to keep those words on topic. Keep them -- on the ideal page, what would be the perfect result for you?
NNAMDITom, thank you.
TOMYeah, what I also...
NNAMDIGo ahead, Tom.
TOMWhat I often search for is extensive discography 'cause everybody publishes a discography, and that has, like, the albums everybody knows. But I'm typically looking for stuff like the B-sides that were never on an album and, you know, the songs that were included on a soundtrack, you know, and only on the soundtrack to a movie, things like that. That's the stuff I'm looking for. So, you know, everybody publishes a discography.
TOMBut it doesn't often help. That's the thing.
RUSSELLYeah. So you're a discriminating searcher.
RUSSELLAnd so what you're looking for is almost, by definition, going to be tough to find. So, for example, looking for B-list, B-side playlists or lists or content or something like that, you might want to just include that phrase, B-side -- B- side -- and you might get that kind of thing. Adding a word like extensive or lengthy is probably not going to help out because everybody is going to say, oh, this is the authoritative, you know, discography. And so you want to find those terms that are going to be associated with the kind of result you're looking for. So try B-side. See if that doesn't help.
NNAMDITom, thank you very much for your call. And good luck to you. The kinds of things that people are searching for, that's a moving target, too, and Google has to react to that. And sometimes it can even surprise the uber tech lead for search quality and user happiness who was at a Stanford basketball game with his son. And he heard the student section singing a song that you hear at a lot of games. You know, it goes like this:
NNAMDIYou know the song. You tried, Dan Russell, to use Shazam on your iPhone, but it wouldn't work because it was a crowd that making the noise, not the song.
NNAMDIThen your son Googled the lyrics. He put in O-H-O-H-O-H-O-H-O-O-O-O-O, and he found himself listening to this.
NNAMDIWho knew the song has a name? It's "Kernkraft 400," and the name of the group performing it is Zombie Nation. That surprised you, didn't it?
RUSSELLRight. It did surprise me. It surprised me for a lot of reasons. But it's also proof that no good story doesn't go unrepeated.
RUSSELLSo what surprised me about it was that I didn't expect that the lyrics ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh would ever lead to anything useful. And so, basically, I told him, look, kid, give up. You're not going to find it.
RUSSELLBut what surprised me about it was that you mentioned that the Internet and the content on the Internet is changing constantly. I did not expect that these question-answering sites, what are called QA sites...
RUSSELL...would become so popular. And what it acts as is kind of a question-based reservoir of cultural knowledge. So when he typed in ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh song...
RUSSELL...there were a lot of people who had asked that same question. And thousands of people before him basically lead to that particular mp3 file, which he now has on his music player.
NNAMDIAnd good for him. On to Lavern in Washington, D.C. Lavern, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LAVERNYeah, hi. Kojo, you have a lovely voice, by the way.
NNAMDIJust can't sing. But go ahead.
LAVERNI'm technologically challenged, but I love Google. I think it was a great concept. And I would like to know -- I could Google it -- but are there classes to teach you on how to Google? I know they have local classes here where you can learn about Facebook and what have you, but I've never heard -- or maybe I should just look into it -- classes that teach you how to Google so that you will be more comfortable with it. It was not till about a year ago that I realized that you could even look up images. That's how challenged I am.
LAVERNBut my other question is, how can you remove from Google, from Googling, personal information that has been deliberately or inadvertently posted on the Internet about you? I Google my name, and all my personal information is there. And when I knew one particular company that did it and I contacted them, they went ahead to be spiteful and put more information about me on there.
LAVERNA stalker could easily show up at my doorstep. And how do you remove any personal information? I know there are times when you're filling out forms. I now ask, will this appear on the Internet if I check a certain box? And they will tell me, now, yes or no. So I know, in a way, how to avoid certain things, but if it is already there, how can you remove your personal information from being Googled?
NNAMDIFirst, Dan Russell, the searching-learning question and then the privacy concerns because we do other emails and questions about the privacy question.
RUSSELLAll right. So classes are taught a lot at public libraries. So almost every public library nearby has some class at some point how to do better Internet search, how to be a more effective Googler. I know this because I teach some of them.
RUSSELLSo I teach in the local libraries in Silicon Valley, which is sort of the last place you'd ever expect that people would need this, but they need it just as much there as they do here. So look in your local library for programs that teach people how to do Internet search. They're probably in the computer class section. I also teach classes myself, so if you go to my website and I'm in your area, I -- these often are open classes for the public, so you can find out what's going on there. And you can Google me. If you can't find my result, I've done something terribly wrong.
NNAMDIAnd, Lavern, allow me to add to your question the broader concern about privacy and ask Dan to deal with both because the privacy rules that Google implemented earlier this month, which basically let Google combine data from most of its services, some people were immediately alarmed that Google would be messing with their personal information. What's different under the new privacy rules? And what would you say to those people who are concerned about their personal information in addition to how Lavern might get rid of hers on the Web?
RUSSELLSo it's still with Lavern's question first.
RUSSELLThen we'll do the Google privacy thing. So you have to understand, Lavern, that the way Google works is we're basically creating the index of all the stuff that's on the Web. So when you do a Google search, you're actually looking through the index of -- the index, like the back of the book, right? The index in the back that says, oh, Lavern's information is here. So the content is actually provided by the website owner or the publisher of that particular page. So what we...
RUSSELLWhat you have to do -- it sounds like you already did this. You contact the publisher or the website owner and ask for a removal. It's formally known as a takedown notice. I want to take down this particular content or on this particular page or this particular image. Now, an alternative is you can go to Google, and there is a content or page or image removal page on Google. So the easiest way to find that is Google remove my content. If you do that search, it will take you to the Google page that allows you to fill in the information.
RUSSELLAnd then, depending on, you know, the details of -- to how that information is served and so on, we can remove it. Now, here is the big gotcha. That content can come back. Just because they've taken it down once doesn't prevent them from republishing again later. This is a big cultural bugaboo we've got. We have to sort of figure out where the definition of privacy and personal information is. But those are two mechanisms you can use right now, OK?
NNAMDIAnd, Lavern, you say in one case it was actually malicious on the part of the people to whom you complained?
NNAMDIThey put it back deliberately?
RUSSELLIn a case like that, you know, you're dealing with a bad actor. That's going to be tough. So you may actually have to take legal action for that, and it's very similar to people publishing malicious information in, say, a newspaper where you have the analogous kind of problem, except the newspaper goes into the archives. And it's very difficult. You can't go and remove the newspaper from the library. That's not allowed, right? On the Web, though, you can actually get that stuff taken down, and it will then be deleted from Google's index and go away.
NNAMDILavern, thank you very much for your call. Good luck to you.
RUSSELLSo let's talk about your...
NNAMDIThe broader privacy question.
RUSSELLThe other broader privacy question, right. So at Google, we take the whole issue of privacy really, really seriously. So we provide, among other things, lots of different ways that you can actually see what kind of information Google has about you. So there's a thing called the Google Dashboard. And if you just Google Google Dashboard, you'll find the link to that page, and it will show you everything that Google knows about you, what accounts you have, what services you're signed up for, all the kind of settings that you have. It's all consolidated into one single place. So that's one thing.
RUSSELLGmail has what's called secure sockets layer encryption. All that really means is it's very tough for somebody to snoop on your Gmail that's going through the Wi-Fi cable, the Wi-Fi airless connection in Starbucks. So you can be there, and we'll actually encrypt the data coming to and from your email. We also do things like give you incognito mode in the Chrome browser, which allows you to basically go totally off the record. All your searches are not being recorded, your personal settings, what you downloaded -- none of that stuff is written down.
RUSSELLSo we could give a whole bunch of different mechanisms where people can protect their privacy and go off the record. You also -- using the Google Dashboard, you can go see what we have and go change it.
NNAMDIOn to Bob in Takoma Park, Md., who has a confidentiality question. Bob, your turn. Hi, Bob. Are you there? Well...
NNAMDIYeah, and so...
RUSSELLI'm sorry, Bob.
NNAMDI...Bob may have wandered away from the phone. I'm going to put you on hold, Bob, and then come back to you. Here now is Jason in Bethesda, Md. Jason, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JASONOh, yes. Hi, Kojo, I'm a big fan. Great voice, by the way. I had a question about siloing. Actually, there was a TED Talk posted recently about how search results are personalized based on who is doing the searching, how no two searches are the same. So, for example, if you and I search Iran, we would get very different search results based on our previous search history amongst other things.
JASONSo I just wanted to hear the Google perspective on that and see if perhaps, you know, they were addressing this problem in terms of turning to, instead of silo people search results, garnering a community that is sort of more open in discussing topics. And as sort of an addendum to that, I wanted to point out that, you know, now, with Google+ integration into search results, it's becoming increasingly difficult for other sites and social networks to actually cater to their audience.
JASONYou know, most people today use Google search, and, you know, this sort of no Facebook policy is actually -- can be detrimental to, you know, the service as a whole.
RUSSELLOK. A lot of questions there.
RUSSELLYeah. So let's start with the personalization one. It's true Google, when you're logged in, will personalize your results. So what that means is Google is actually watching the kinds of things you're searching for and what you click on and trying to then predict how to improve the quality of the results you ask in the next query. So that's a little bit like talking to your librarian who will then do the right thing next time you come into the library.
RUSSELLNow, the critique here is that it's over personalizing. And it's based on an assumption that you could, for example, walk into a library 15 years ago and get pure objective results, and everybody would get exactly the same kind of results every time. And that's just not true. Every library is heavily curated. The librarians go through and very carefully select volumes. They select what magazines to subscribe to and so on. So every library is distinctive and different and nuanced. So if you go, for example, Library of Congress, you get one perspective.
RUSSELLYou go to a library at, say, the American University, you'll get a different one. So there's this sort of mythology about the perfect objective search results. And truth is, nobody knows how to do that. It just seems to be impossible. So the second point you brought up about community discussions, there are lots of different kind of communities. G+ has one from Google. Facebook's got communities. There are a lot of different kinds of communities you can participate in. We have communities with -- inside of G+ that people use in --for -- as forums to discuss these kinds of issues.
RUSSELLAnd it's an interesting kind of, you know, phenomena, the whole social network effect with the rise of different social networking facilities. To see what's going on here, I don't know that we've seen the end of this. This is rapidly evolving territory, and it's fascinating to see, for example, the QA forums we were just discussing with the ooh, ooh, ooh song.
RUSSELLIt's an interesting space to be in right now, and I don't think this is, in any way, stabilized out. We are not in a fixed point yet. I don't know that will -- it's ever happened, but it's interesting to see how social networks and discussion groups will contribute to knowledge as a culture.
NNAMDIJason, thank you very much for your call. We got to take a short break. When we come back -- if you're on the line, stay there. We'll try to get your call in. If the lines are busy, go to our website, kojoshow.org. Or send us a tweet at #TechTuesday or email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation with Daniel Russell. It's Tech Tuesday. And Dan Russell is the uber tech lead for search quality and user happiness at Google. He joins us in studio. If you would like to join the conversation, you can go to our website, kojoshow.org. Send us a tweet at #TechTuesday or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We got this email from Scott in Knoxville, Md.: "I am a grandmaster with online search dating back, well, before Google existed.
NNAMDI"A major concern to most of the other hardcores I know is the dumbing down of Google tools with little option to revert to the earlier detailed options. The loss of the plus option required word or phrase was enormous. Google's attempts to correct my spelling usually causes more work than it saves. A pro mode would be excellent. Some of us know exactly what we're doing and likely ways to find it. Too often, Google gets in the way more than it helps." A Google pro mode for the pros.
RUSSELLYou know, I -- I'm a pro, too.
RUSSELLAnd I actually teach a lot of classes, and I teach a lot of classes to journalists, for example. And one of the things they're asking for is how do I do these more advanced operations like the ones you just mentioned. One of the things I almost always tell people is every Google corpus, every Google style, like news or images or whatever, has an advanced search page. So you can click through to the advanced search page, and you'll get all the features you want. And they're all there.
RUSSELLSo that's one way to get to the more advanced search functions you might want. Now, your comment about plus is interesting because it turns out that people thought that what plus did -- actually, it never did that.
RUSSELLThe truth is people thought, for example, that -- it's still true that if you use the minus operator tool, say, for example, recipe salsa minus tomatoes, you will get salsa recipes without tomatoes in it, kind of what you want. But the opposite is not true. If you said recipe salsa plus tomatoes, well what the plus did is it would turn off spell correction. It didn't force the inclusion of a particular term. To get that, you actually have to use in-text colon tomatoes in order to enforce that to be included.
RUSSELLSo what Google Plus did was it allowed you to basically -- no synonyms, no spell correction, nothing of that, right? You do that now with double quote. So you would now say recipe salsa "tomatoes." And so you get exactly that word in there, right? So the other thing about spell correction is when we do a spell correction, we always give you the option, right below the spell correction to say, did you really want this misspelled word? And it may be a variant spelling.
RUSSELLFor example, when you're looking for variant spellings of a family name like Gillespie, there are multiple variations on that. You might be choosing variation 29. We'll spell-correct it, but you'll always have the option below it to hit that. Or you can use the double quote around that term. You'll get exactly what you want.
NNAMDIBack to the telephones now. Here is Bill in Dover, Del. Bill, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BILLThank you so much. Hi. Very great, interesting topic. I'm an author, and I was featured in U.S. News & World Report, New York Times and a few other publications back in'98, '99 and 2000. And when I try to find the articles, I can't find them. I'm having difficulty finding them. Do you have any guidance for me in that particular area?
RUSSELLSure do. There are two things you can explore. First off, if you know -- for example, is it published in U.S. News & World Report? You can use the site operator to limit your search to just that publication or just that website. And the way that works would be site, colon, usnewsandworldreport.com or whatever the website is, and you run all that together, no space. So, site, colon, then those site names, usnews.com, so that will restrict your search to just that location.
RUSSELLSo, for example, if I wanted to search just WAMU's website, I'd say site, colon, WAMU, right, and it would get that kind of search. The second thing you might do, since you know the publication date, is you might use the date restriction operation, which is on the left-hand panel of the regular search.
RUSSELLOK? So if you go ahead and type in, for example, your name, and you can then go down and click. And you'll see an option that says filter by date. You can either say this month, last week, this year. And there's one option that says custom range. You can put in 1998 to 2000. So try those two tricks out, and I think you'll find what you need.
BILLOK. Thank you.
NNAMDIBill, thank you very much for your call. Let's go back to the fact that you were carrying an iPhone at that ball game for a minute. To what degree is the mobile world changing the search business and the expectations people have for what they can search for and when? It seems, fundamentally, that the way we can ask questions is changing all the time with the mobile world.
RUSSELLThat's right. The introduction of portable computers in your pocket that also act as telephones, which we think of as mobile phones, has really fundamentally changed a lot of conversations. So I'm out with my friends. We ask, you know, what was Abraham Lincoln's son's name? Now, I can look it up. What was his middle name, right? We can just look this stuff up. And so conversations that used to spin on and on for hours arguing about nuanced things that may or may not be true can now be resolved quickly. So this really changes the way a lot of media is consumed.
RUSSELLYou know, you see something on television. Now, you can look it up on your tablet that's sitting in your lap. So the phones, which have additional sensors, like GPS and, you know, the maps and know where you are, it really changes the way you think about new information and what you can find.
NNAMDII've heard that you're particularly excited about something called Google's Goggles. What's that?
RUSSELLGoogle Goggles, yeah. It's an application that runs in your phone. And, basically, you point it at things, like, for example, the George Washington Bridge or, say, the Abraham Lincoln Monument on the Mall. I can point it at that, take a picture, and it searches the Web for pictures like that, and it identifies that. So if I'm at the Mall and took a picture of the monument, it will identify the monument and go to the webpage that best describes that monument. All right? That's what Google Goggles is, phenomenal piece of software.
NNAMDITo what degree are the cameras attached to all these mobile devices changing the game when it comes to how we search? People around the world can now use images and videos, as you just pointed out, to help them find what they want.
RUSSELLThat's right. So I'm really interested in wildflowers, and so I'll go for these walks in the summertime and spring. And sometimes I can use Google Goggles to identify a flower. That just stuns me every time it happens. Now, in general, that's a tough problem. But if you get the flower in a pose that's similar to a picture of that flower that's on the Web somewhere, it will do the picture matching.
RUSSELLSomething that's not known generally is that, using Google Images, you can actually drag an image off your desktop on your computer into Google Images, and it will find that image if it exists out on the Web somewhere.
NNAMDIYou just answered this tweet we got from Abdon Bush (sp?). "Can you paste an image like a JPEG in the Google search box and get relevant results?"
RUSSELLExactly right. Yeah, that's exactly right. It's called Search by Image, so if you Google Google Search by Image, you will find exactly a page describing that. But, more simply, you can just drag an image. So go to Google Images. And if you just drag an image off your desktop -- or you can upload it using a file dialog, where you just drag it in, and it will search for that. Now...
NNAMDISo I can put somebody's face in there and do that, maybe find out who that person is?
RUSSELLIf it's a -- what it's actually doing is looking for corresponding pictures. So, for example, if you look for a picture of President Obama, it's probably been published a zillion times. So you can actually drag that in, and it will find that. But, in general, my face, you're going to find maybe a couple of standard poses. And the issue about face recognition is the difficulty of doing arbitrary facial recognition.
RUSSELLSo it's not actually necessarily great for faces. But what it's doing is image matching. So to the degree that those pictures are already out there, it will find faces or images or objects that are already on the Web.
NNAMDILet's stay on the subject of the future of search for a minute. You've said that the future of search is social. What does that mean? And what does the homeless-looking guy you met in Portland with the really fancy camera lens have to do with it?
RUSSELLSo there are two interesting points about -- that's social. So, earlier, we mentioned social networks. And, for example, one of the things people do is they can plus-one something, or they can like it. And that's basically saying, I did a search, and here's the result. And I think it's pretty good. That's information that I'm adding to the Web. I like this result. Now, if you're my friend in one of these social networks, when I search for that or you search for that result, you might want to see that I vetted that. I've already said, this is the best barbecue place in the city. Boom. It's great.
RUSSELLSo that's one way of doing social information sharing. Another one was with the guy with the camera. He had this enormously long lens, and he was taking pictures of tails of the planes taking off from Portland airport, as it turns out. And what he did -- he's been sharing information with other tailspotters, like trainspotters, except with better aircraft. And they would actually swap these numbers and say, oh, it took off from Portland, but it landed in Hong Kong. Oh, interesting. And that's -- this is the game they play.
RUSSELLThis is the social networking and sharing in information that allows them to pull these kinds of pieces of information together and figure out who's -- what airline is carrying what, where they're going. And the kinds of invocations are that is these are the people who figured out the extraordinary rendition flights. So this is a really interesting social consequence of that. The last aspect of social sharing, social knowledge there, social search, is that people often don't search alone.
RUSSELLYou know, when I'm searching for something, I'm often searching for my family, or I'm searching medical information about my, say, my mother. And that's searching for people with people. And often, when I run into a real problem, the first thing I do is I call somebody who knows a lot more about it and figure out the right term. Should I be using the term discography or B-sides?
NNAMDIThe extraordinary rendition story, I find absolutely fascinating. Here now is Renee (sp?) in Arlington, Va. Renee, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RENEEHi, yes. Well, first of all, I should just say that I'm a huge Google fan. My husband always makes fun of me because I'm always exclaiming how much I love Google. But I was just wondering if the guest anticipated that in the near future or not-so near future their -- the advertisements would not be able to cover the costs of the company and if they would ever have to move to a subscription model. Is that something that's ever talked about?
NNAMDII'm sure it's been talked about.
RUSSELLThe world of advertising is remarkable. It's really big. That's the first thing that surprised me when I joined Google. And so I don't see that happening anytime soon. Currently, we do a lot to make our run rate -- its costs and the expenses we have to pay to support all of that technology -- compatible with our income. So, so far, we've been making a profit. We're doing quite well. So I don't see that happening anytime soon.
RUSSELLBut subscriptions are sometimes useful for verticals or specialized data, specialized domains, specialized areas, where you -- there's not a giant interest for it. So sometimes some data providers and search providers need to have subscriptions to support that model, but that's not our model. We're doing fine. Thank you, though.
NNAMDIRenee, thank you for your call. Here is Ben in Washington, D.C. Ben, your turn.
BENHi. Thanks. I had a comment and a question. The comment was just sort of in a follow-up to your story before about teaching in-house students, founded new ways to get their programming homework done. As a teacher in the past, I've used Google to catch plagiarists, and I don't know that -- well, I guess it works both ways for a student.
BENSomeone who had previously gotten away with copying exact paragraph from something is now easily recognized by just searching for sentences or sentence fragments in quotes in Google. And the question was -- is along the lines of something that was asked earlier.
BENYou had -- with changes to Google and more personalized searching, where people are searching -- people's results are targeted to them specifically, how will that affect people who, I guess, are doing things similar to you, which is using Google as a research tool, either counting -- I mean, I know it's not always the most significant, but often you see -- you know, I searched for this person's name with this word, and I got 1 million results.
BENSo that means it's been out there in the public. It's a common concept. Or, in other cases, people use the Google Analytics to see what searches are popular when. But if the results are being targeted to specific individuals, how will that change the utility of Google for those other purposes?
RUSSELLSo the personalized results, there's a couple of things to say about that, one of which is, first off, you know what's happening. So if you want to get out of your particular set of personalized results, the easy thing to do is just to log out. And then you can -- you'll basically have a whole new slate. You can start from there. Or if you're worried about any kind of hangover effect where your -- the searches of the past are affecting the searches of the present, you can go ahead and clear your cookies in your browser. So those are two easy ways to sort of get around that.
RUSSELLSo the results are not exactly so much targeted as what we're doing is bringing up results that we think you are going to want to know about. So don't think of -- 'cause there's -- I want to make a distinction between the organic results, which are the results we return, versus the advertising, which is on the right-hand side. So, you know, when you're looking at the numbers of results, don't worry. You know, it's a rough estimate. I wouldn't use it for a close analysis.
NNAMDIBen, thank you very much for your call. And, finally, there's this email from James in Woodley Park. "Please ask Dan to try to use Google to find out who played bass on the song 'Mine' by Taylor Swift. It was a big hit, and there were three bassists on the album, but, for years, I haven't been able to find out." That's the challenge you can take with you, Dan Russell.
RUSSELLI think I can do it. I predict 10 seconds.
NNAMDIOoh. Daniel Russell is the uber tech lead for search quality and user happiness at Google. Dan Russell, thank you so much for joining us.
RUSSELLIt's been a pleasure. Thank you.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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