Some question Google’s ‘rookie mistakes’ with SearchWiki

25 Nov Some question Google’s ‘rookie mistakes’ with SearchWiki

Computerworld, By Heather Havenstein, November 24, 2008
Google Inc.’s new search customization tool, SearchWiki, has quickly generated criticism for its lack of an opt-out option and perceived privacy threats. Google unveiled SearchWiki last week, saying that it would allow users signed into Google to change the ranking of personal search results. The tool also lets users delete or add comments to searches. The comments are shared with other users and signed with a person’s username, Google said. Re-ranked search results are only seen by the signed-in user and do not affect other people’s results. Google contends that the tool makes searches more useful because users can benefit from community edits of search results. Some bloggers quickly criticized the tool, while others have posted a script to disable it, thus returning search results to their original format. TechCrunch blogger Michael Arrington, for example lamented that the new feature allowed pornography spam to show up in the search results for the TechCrunch blog. “Cheers were heard across the Internet earlier [Saturday] when Google’s new SearchWiki search interface inexplicably vanished,” he blogged. “Perhaps, just maybe, it was gone for good. Or at least when it returned it would have an opt-out feature.” The interface soon returned, however, prompting him to criticize the interface for allowing comments like the spam that “scar Google’s once pristine search results page.” He provided a link to a script that would enable people to disable SearchWiki. A Google spokesperson said in a statement that SearchWiki just launched and the feedback the company is getting from most users is that it is a “really cool” addition. “We’re always open to input, and we will be iterating and improving SearchWiki based on usage and feedback,” the spokesperson added. Dave Weinberger, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, said that Google committed two rookie mistakes in the development of SearchWiki. “First, opting us in is obnoxious enough, but not giving us a way to opt out is unsupportable,” he added. “Where’s the big ‘No thanks’ button?” Second, he added, the results page shows users the nicknames of others users who have voted a page up. “So, now the whole world will see that ‘dweinberger’ not only searched for ‘Angelina Jolie’ but thumbs-upped the page of closeups of her tattoos?” he added.  “Guess who just changed his nickname to something less identifiable! This is a feature without value — the list of names isn’t clickable or complete [and it does not] tell you how many people voted it up — unless you recognize someone’s nickname, in which case it has negative value.”