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My Letter To Playboy

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Dear Playboy. I never thought I'd be writing you a letter, but I was in my dorm room one day, and...

Seriously, after the now infamous Playboy cover story on Google, I along with other people such as Daniel Brandt of Google Watch and Andreas Heldal-Lund of Xenu.net were invited to contribute letters to the magazine about the article.

Andy Beal's convinced his wife that in the sake of research, he needed to buy a copy -- so you can see a scanned version of what I wrote over at Search Engine Lowdown.

My letter was edited for space, as was Brandt's. You can see Brandt's original copy here, and Heldal-Lund's original copy here. My original letter is below:

I was pleased to see search, in the form of the Google Guys interview, grace the pages of Playboy last month. It's another sign of how search engines have become such a vital part of our lives. Many of us can't imagine living without them, yet they've only been around for 10 years.

It's important to note many of the challenges Google faces that were covered in the interview are applicable to the search industry as a whole.

For example, "Google bombs" that put George W. Bush or Michael Moore at the top of Google's results for "miserable failure" have had a similar impact on Google's competitors, feeding the impression that anyone at will can manipulate search results. That's not an image Google, or the search industry as a whole, wants to have. They need a solution, and soon.

One such solution would be to involve human editors as part of the search equation. At one time, several search engines allowed human beings to make editorial choices about what would be shown in response to a query, to complement technological selections. Today, all the major services have sadly followed Google's lead in assuming all things can be solved through automation and search algorithms.

How about the issue of whether Google might cave into Chinese government pressure to remove certain web sites from its listings? Google's founders said they haven't done that yet, but they don't rule out the possibility in the future. But why focus on China? Google has already censored results in response to German, U.K. and French laws -- not to mention those of the United States. Nor are they alone. Other search engines have had to do the same.

As search heads into its teenage years, more challenges like these will ultimately emerge. As the current poster child for search, it's heartening that Google's founders have good intentions. The "do no evil" policy can come off sounding like hubris, but it reflects an honest desire to do the right thing.

Unfortunately, the right thing isn't always obvious. Even when it is, just saying you'll do it may not be enough for many people, as the founders learned in the outcry over Gmail and privacy. People have learned not to trust corporations. To overcome this lack of trust, Google will have to continually earn the trust of its customers.

If you're a Search Engine Watch member, I also did a long review of the article over here, picking up some things in the Playboy letter above along with a couple of other items.


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