Microsoft Research Lab in Cambridge Isn't Ivory Tower

Chayes_Borgs.jpg

The New York Times, CNET, InformationWeek, and 52 other Google News sources missed the significance of Microsoft's new Research Lab in Cambridge, Mass., headed by Jennifer Chayes and her husband, Christian Borgs. The Times implied that Chayes and Borgs work in an ivory tower where basic research doesn't have a business imperative.

Nothing could be further from the truth in the online world.

Jennifer Tour Chayes, PhD in mathematical physics, led the highly esteemed Theory Group specializing in theoretical computer science. She's the co-author of almost 100 scientific papers and co-inventor of more than 20 patents. The New York Times only mentions her work in developing simple models of liquids and solids and the development of some exceedingly fast networking algorithms. Hunh?

Their groundbreaking work in search engine algorithms and social search may be the foundation of a successful Microsoft-Yahoo merger.

Chayes is one of the world's experts in the modeling and analysis of random, dynamically growing graphs (social graph, social search, Facebook, MySpace) – which are used to model the Internet, the World Wide Web and social networks.

One of the papers the couple co-authored, "Bid optimization in online advertisement auctions", details the ways paid search campaigns can be optimized by advertisers and search engines. "Multi-unit auctions with budget-constrained bidders", written by Borgs, Chayes, Nicole Immorlica (MIT), Mohammad Mahdian, and Amin Saberi (published in June 2005), discusses ways to optimize revenue for search engines given the fixed budgets of search marketers.

Their recent work provides a tutorial on search engine optimization and PageRank, before delving deep into algorithms few search marketers (myself included) understand.

Search engine optimization lives and dies by PageRank. Here's what you need to know about their research into PageRank.

Borgs and Chayes go beyond where a Web page ranks and explore the pages or sets of pages that contribute most to its rank. That's the foundation of link building. With the exception of link farms, link building has largely been a manual effort, somewhat arcane, but vital to SEO. PageRank contributions have been used for link spam detection and in the classification of web pages.

Chayes and Borg note that a set of pages contributing significantly to the PageRank of a page is often called a "contribution set" or "supporting set" of the page. Their work goes a long way toward solving the mysteries of Google PageRank -- and fighting the spam that threatens to degrade the relevancy of all search engine results pages.

Link spam can be detected in many ways besides the SpamRank-type algorithms: applying machine learning to link-based features, the analysis of page content, TrustRank, and Anti-TrustRank, and statistical analysis of various page features. Chayes, Borgs and their research associates use the local algorithm developed here to design several locally computable page features for link spam detection, and evaluate these features experimentally.

Chayes' contributions to Microsoft technologies include the development of methods to analyze network structure and behavior, auction algorithm design (i.e. paid search auctions), and online business model design and analysis.

She's famous for her work on phase transitions in problems in discrete mathematics and theoretical computer science. The result? The rise of some of the fastest known algorithms for fundamental problems in combinatorial optimization, the intersection of artificial intelligence, mathematics and software engineering. That would be search engine algorithms, paid search auctions and search engine revenue optimization.

Algorithms fuel search engines, spam filters, online advertising engines, social networks, machine translation and most of the online world. Social sciences - economics, psychology and sociology - analyze how and why people value things and study how people interact with each other. That's why, for example, Hal Varian, plays a key role in Google's success as the company's chief economist.

That's why Google's Marissa Mayer says social search is the future of Google.

That's the core of Search Engine WarGames.