Skip to content

Archive for February, 2011

27
Feb

Now you see it, now you don’t: Google “glitch” renders email inaccessible for 150,000 Gmail users

In another sign that quality assurance has gone downhill at Google, several media outlets are reporting that a “glitch” in the Monster of Mountain View’s Gmail product has resulted in an estimated one hundred and fifty thousand users temporarily losing access to all their email:

Google, we have a problem. About 150,000 Gmail account holders woke up to a nightmare this morning, with all their e-mail, attachments and Google Chat logs gone. What happened?

Google explains that “less than 0.08%” of all Gmail users were affected by the bug, which completely reset accounts, even down to the detail offering a welcome message to those users when they first logged on today. They, and especially visitors to the Gmail Help Forum, were not amused.

Nice. Of course, Google logs pretty much everything it can for data-mining purposes – which means ironically that its employees have access to the messages of the 150,000 affected users even the users themselves don’t.

A great many people have been lured into signing up for Gmail over the years because they’ve bought into Google’s marketing hype, or they’ve trusted someone who has. It’s true that Google has traditionally included features in Gmail that its competitors (Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail) haven’t, like unfettered POP and IMAP access. But Gmail’s competition is hardly the gold standard. The best email service usually costs money and comes with free, responsive technical support, along with generous storage limits and no advertising in the web interface.

Those who use Gmail not only consent to being spied on constantly by Google, they also run the risk that something like this will happen… and that when it does, they’ll be at the mercy of a faceless corporation that doesn’t provide dependable support.

18
Feb

Google to del.icio.us users: Trust us with your link collections

The Monster of Mountain View sees an opportunity to gobble up more user data:

In reaction to what many have thought to be Yahoo’s mismanagement of the popular bookmarking service Delicious in the past couple of months, many people have tried to roll their own Delicious importers in hopes of taking advantage of the traffic exodus. Google too has today rolled out a Delicious migration tool for Google Bookmarks, to give people who were scared of the demise of Delicious a safe haven for their meticulously curated links.

On background: Yahoo gave many people a scare a couple of months ago when an internal Yahoo slide was leaked, revealing that Yahoo would be sunsetting Delicious, a social bookmarking site with a vehement cult following. It turns out that by “sunsetting” Yahoo actually meant selling (heh, that’s not actually what sunsetting means). But while Yahoo has approached numerous people about unloading the property, it still has not found a buyer after three months.

There’s no reason to use Google Bookmarks when there are far better del.icio.us alternatives out there… like Histori.us, which can easily import del.icio.us link collections. Or Zootool.

13
Feb

New York Times investigates how JCPenney’s “search optimization” firm gamed Google

This article is a must-read:

For months, [JCPenney] was consistently at or near the top in [Google] searches for “skinny jeans,” “home decor,” “comforter sets,” “furniture” and dozens of other words and phrases, from the blandly generic (“tablecloths”) to the strangely specific (“grommet top curtains”).

This striking performance lasted for months, most crucially through the holiday season, when there is a huge spike in online shopping. J. C. Penney even beat out the sites of manufacturers in searches for the products of those manufacturers. Type in “Samsonite carry on luggage,” for instance, and Penney for months was first on the list, ahead of Samsonite.com.

How did Penney accomplish this? Its search optimization firm cheated by soliciting links to Penney’s site from untold numbers of other websites, including content farms. The cheating was discovered by the New York Times, which published a high-profile article about it. Google subsequently took action, but the damage to its reputation has already been done.

Google’s so-called anti-spam guru Matt Cutts claims the company cares about the integrity of its search results. But actions speak louder than words. Increasingly, what’s relevant and useful is buried in Google searches, while spam and junk float to the top. Maybe that’s not by accident, either.

Last year, Advertising Age obtained a Google document that listed some of its largest advertisers, including AT&T, eBay and yes, J. C. Penney. The company, this document said, spent $2.46 million a month on paid Google search ads — the kind you see next to organic results.

Is it possible that Google was willing to countenance an extensive black-hat campaign because it helped one of its larger advertisers? It’s the sort of question that European Union officials are now studying in an investigation of possible antitrust abuses by Google.

Google does not exist to make the world a better place or improve human knowledge. It exists to spy on people and make money. That explains why quality assurance has been declining: it’s just not a priority for the Monster of Mountain View.

There’s no reason to use Google for search anymore, particularly with so many good alternatives now out there, including startups like Blekko.

6
Feb

Washington Post staff writer: Google search sucks

The Washington Post’s Michael S. Rosenwald discovers what many of us have known for some time: Google search sucks and frequently fails to provide relevant answers or useful information:

Earlier this month, my friend Rebecca Skloot replaced her hulking big-box TV – I can vouch for its girth, having moved it once – with a flat-screen no thicker than an iPad. She turned it on and, horror of horrors, the picture was lousy.

Displeased, she turned to Google for help. What the search engine delivered was a mess, a collection of spammy sites riddled with ads. So she turned to Twitter, posting: “Old TV died, got newfangled LED TV. Shocked how bad/fake movies look! . . . Others have this prob?”

Solutions to Skloot’s technological melodrama rolled in. Fix this setting, turn this off, shazam! A few hours later, she posted: “Thx 4 fixing my TV today! It’s example of how Google=in trouble. Googled 4 fix, got spam sites. On Twitter answer=asap.”

Skloot’s story seems ever more common these days. Google is facing withering criticism from tech bloggers and search engine experts who say the world’s premier gateway to digital information is increasingly being gamed by spammers. Google, they say, is losing.

Google has been losing the battle against spammers for years in part because it doesn’t care about quality assurance in its site results. The company’s evangelists and spokesmen will say otherwise, but actions speak louder than words.

Daniel Brandt, who runs Google Watch, noted years ago (back in the early 2000s) that if you add -.com to a search query, it improves the quality of results dramatically. That’s because most spam sites use the .com TLD (top level domain).

Many of the spam sites or content farms Google has failed to eliminate or deprioritize in search results display Google ads themselves, and spy on their own users using Google Analytics. Google has no incentive to weed out these sites, because that would hurt its own bottom line.

Data from Experian Hitwise, referenced in Rosenwald’s article, confirms that Google’s search engine is headed downhill. Google’s success rate declined thirteen percent last year, while Microsoft’s Bing rose by nine percent.

Lackluster quality assurance is just another reason why people should Leave Google Behind.