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The Ultimate Tinfoil Hat Guide to Google Instant

Posted September 10th, 2010 by Andrew Goodman

Saddened by the inability of the usual sources to doggedly pursue all angles of this story, it seems that Traffickwag must once again step into the breach.

The Register has a few pieces on Google Instant, but nothing that really smacks of the requisite level of paranoia. Perhaps this is because they’re getting bogged down on juvenile examples, like how the Slutsky family is cheated out of an Instant experience. Valleywag, similarly, is all about pee-pee-poo-poo.

Conspiracy theorists, leave it to Traffickwag. We’re here to do your job. And it’s a heck of an interesting job, come to think of it. I’d have written this post under a pseudonym, but setting up a new WordPress account would have taken time. And time, Sergey, Larry, Marissa, and the team assure us, is something we do not have. If people can search one nanosecond more quickly, then they’ll “search more”. Hmm… maybe. I’m not sure cycling past “burger king” when I get a call in the middle of my search for “Burt Reynolds,” or a page full o’ Ticketmaster when I look for T.I., is “searching more,” but this is clearly a matter of opinion.

Seriously, now. There are many potential explanations for why Google would have rolled this out. Do they really expect us to believe their official explanations? And why has no one seriously questioned their motives?

Please think in terms of an inverted pyramid — from the most plausible and palatable explanations at the top, to the most unlikely, yet possibly powerful, conspiracy theories at the bottom. We’d draw the inverted pyramid, but again — we’re pressed for time.

Google’s Motives in Rolling Out Instant Search at the Present Time

1. Google Suggest helped people use their brains less, and search more quickly. So, based on positive user responses to similar functionality, Google decided to extend that functionality.

2. People use search to navigate. The core idea comes from URL completion and (again) features like Google Suggest. A lot of the time people want to use search tools like a bookmark, so by focusing on making that faster, users get happier and Google’s engineering team is forced to come up with a solution to stop this activity from draining so many resources. The fact that the user sees a full preview instead of just Google Suggest is sort of icing on the cake.

3. Shock and awe. More than just icing on the cake, Google declares their supremacy as a technology leader by performing unlikely feats that are highly visible for all to see, consumers and competitors alike. All that is missing is Sergey Brin in uniform astride the deck of the USS Algorithm, declaring “victory” over foes, real and imagined. Great for internal morale.

4. Speaking of internal morale, it’s people driven and ego driven. Whether it’s Larry Page or Sergey Brin getting single-minded about “proof of speed,” Marissa Mayer (or “marissa_” in Google Instant Speak) approving of the focus group test data, or the team of (smiling, clapping in photo) engineers getting to work on a neat toy and solve interesting problems, there are plenty of people at Google who simply wanted to push this through. So it’s win-win-win-win, especially if you happen to work at Google.

5. Shock and crush. The move is intended to fake out competitors, to lure them into overinvesting in the wrong things, or to shame them by making their technology look outdated. End result: competitors weaker, consumers more enamored of Google than ever.

6. Google isn’t up to anything, but it’s making a big mistake. This is Google’s New Coke Moment. This theory is not too likely, but many of these theories are partial truths at best. This one suffers from the fact that users can shut off Google Instant.

7. Google’s going to find out very soon that it screws up their revenue projections, so it’s making a big, costly mistake. They’d find this out soon enough, and would shut down the initiative. But no one would know if it was for this reason, some other reason, or because they’d planned to make it short-lived all along. See, even when things are simple, don’t you feel yourself being faked out? You should be able to, if you adjust the tinfoil hat correctly. Try harder, please!

8. For all of its might, Google struggles with spam, basic relevancy, logic, and metaphor problems. The basic web index results are frequently unsatisfactory, and the problem isn’t going away by working on real search relevancy — that’s too complex. So instead, raw power and interface changes (seemingly complex, but less complex than the really intractable AI problems they want to solve) are used as a distraction to make users think there is forward progress and a high degree of technological sophistication in da house.

9. Google’s smuggling in an attempt to favor big brands in the organic search results. When consumers are bored and just playing with the search engine, brand names will start coming up more often. That will subliminally appeal to corporate marketing people, who will warm up their relationship with Google faster than you can nuke that “caution: contents very hot” fast food apple pie.

10. Google deliberately does a conspicuous “reset” every two years ago, to renew interest in their brand, and to avoid stagnant attention patterns. Among several potential outcomes of these major overhauls is avoidance of banner blindless, to rekindle conscious attention to the whole page, to preserve long term revenues and also to rekindle a faith in Google’s overall mission to innovate around a better user experience, paradoxically, while focusing much of that initiative on revenue per page served.

OK, now the really crazy, out-there ones. I stress, the pyramid is still inverted, and the probability is shrinking while the nefariousness and “things that make you go hmmm….” factor is off the charts.

11. Google begins inventing user behavior patterns that only Google can do a good job of measuring. What’s an impresssion? Who knows? Impressions are ancient history. New metric: “time on letter typed”. Google Analytics, Tinfoil Edition now goes for $50,000 and up.

12. Legal reasons. Every so often, lawsuits by both private actors and governments ratchet up to an alarming level, threatening the ability of a company like Google to continue operating its core business. If litigants are challenging Google’s motives and methods of ranking pages in “search results,” then let’s invalidate several key premises of how the interface and process even work. Make it into “sometimes it’s this, sometimes it’s that, and it’s definitely not always about that.” Judges are forced to throw out cases that refer to a specific method of ranking searches that Google can argue is only a subset of how their “discovery-minded prediction interface” works, or whatever. By systematically creating a framework that appears to discredit any notion that there is a clear pattern of anticompetitive behavior (or whatever is being alleged), Google makes life tough on the litigants. See the pattern? It’s a pattern of disrupting what seems like a pattern, so you can never claim there is a pattern.

Poof, legal problems gone… or at least, prohibitively costly for their foes to pursue. All in a day’s work.


4 Responses to “The Ultimate Tinfoil Hat Guide to Google Instant”

  1. Andrew,

    I’ve enjoyed almost all of the Traffick posts, but this is far and away my favorite.

    I especially love “time on letter typed”. I’m absolutely positive, sort of, that it’s one of the most influential hidden QS factors.

  2. I like 8. the best; although 1-10 are all good.

    Michael Gray also seems to like 8:

  3. Get Ex Back says:

    IMO, it was necessary for Google to come up with something new and game changing as Google Instant. With Yahoo and Bing joining forces against Google, it was expected. Google Instant is their tactic to stay in the game. If it affects SEO, marketing, the way people search, then we just have to deal with it.

  4. Ramenos says:

    I like your last point (12). “Poof, legal problems gone… or at least, prohibitively costly for their foes to pursue. All in a day’s work.”

    This it not new… Unfortunately. However, i would like to know if everybody likes Instant. Personally, I don’t like to have many datas which do “Rumba Dance” everytime i put a new letter in search box :) .


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