March 13, 2006
25 Things I Hate About Google
Google’s purchase of Writely sort of drove me over the edge last week. When I saw the news confirmed, I exclaimed out loud to myself, “Oh, give me a break.” A break from what, freakishly talking to myself? No, a break from Google going in yet another direction when there is so much stuff they haven’t finished, gotten right or need to fix.
Honestly, if Google wants to be as “ubiquitous as brushing your teeth” (see here from October and here earlier this month), then they need to make sure the Google toothpaste tastes good or that you can squeeze it out of the Google toothpaste tube (beta) without it getting all clogged up.
I normally loathe Google-specific articles, because the constant “Google, Google, Google” obsession of such articles continue to put the Marcia Brady of search in the spotlight when the Jans of the world deserve greater attention. They also tend to credit Google too much or blaming it for problems that others have, as well.
Despite that loathing, I’m making a personal exception this time. Perhaps a little Google fixation will be just the cathartic experience I need to cleanse my jaded search soul. Consider this an open letter to a company I’ve been writing about since before it was formally a company, a to do list of things it would be nice to have completed, a hope for an operational pause in the land grab it has embarked upon.
Originally, this was to be called “100 Things I Hate About Google.” I suppose it’s good news that by the time I reached the twenties, I started running out of steam. Then again, I’ve also got other things to do. I’m sure I’ve missed pet peeves that others have. Don’t worry. After you work through my list, you can contribute your own via a forum link at the end.
Remember, just because there’s much I hate doesn’t mean there’s not a lot I love. In fact, anyone in a relationship knows that often the people you can hate the most are the same people that you love the most. You know them intimately; you want perfection. So on the love side, see my 25 Things I Love About Google post.
1. Web search counts that make no sense. “ Why do search engines lie?” has Robert Scoble recently poking at this, on how the reported counts don’t always match reality. Heck, try class two contributions with “about” 59,800,000 matches. But then you find that only 879 are considered non-duplicates! Meanwhile, mars landing sites gives 1,050,000 matches while mars landing sites earth gives nearly double that amount, 1,840,000 listings. It shouldn’t. Adding that extra word should give you a subset of the original query. It should come back with less results, not more. I know, I know. It’s a bug, or search counts are hard to do, or they do say “about.” I know, they aren’t the only ones, nor have they been the first (see Questioning Google’s Counts, Danny & Tristan Talk About Link Counts, Site Counts & Index Auditing and Who’s The Biggest Of Them All?). Long experience in knowing the counts don’t add up has perhaps left me numb to the issue. And goodness knows, I don’t want a return to page counts on the home page. But then again, if you are going to put out a number, perhaps it should be accurate?
2. Despite results clustering, Google keeps serving up sites you’ve seen. You may not know the name results clustering, but you recognize Google doing it. That’s when it sees there’s more than one page from a web site that might match what you are looking for, so it “indents” the second best one below the first. Search for books, and you’ll see this happening with Amazon. But clustering only happens on a results page-by-results page basis. In other words, look at mars landing sites, and there’s a link to a page at the msss.com domain near the bottom. Say you reject this. Go to the next page, and msss.com is back again, as is the BBC. If I rejected content from these sites the first time, I want to see something new. Try whirlpool s20d, and you’ll see the same thing. Lycos.co.uk and householdappliances.kelkoo.co.uk both come back. Give me the best page from a domain once, then give me some variety, not these second chances.
3. Stop confusing people. Pick a user interface and go with it! Google keeps testing and testing various UIs. If I had the time and energy, I’d take all the screenshots people have posted and put them into a single “Google of the future” page. Then again, they probably wouldn’t commit. Enough with the testing! Decide on something and go with it, then change it later if you need to. This constant UI testing over the past year has had people wondering if they’ve been hit by adware/spyware and recently, whether you are questioning their sexual orientation! At least if you’re going to test, do what I suggested and tell the small number of people who care this, to save us from a billion people having to blog about the “discovery” of something new. But do commit, so that as I’ve written, your lack of consistency doesn’t put you down the path that killed AltaVista.
4. Bring on related searches. Back in 2000 or 2001, Chris Sherman and I asked Sergey Brin during a lunch visit why Google lacked tools to help people better narrow in on what they are looking for. Why no “related searches” option? His response was that unless a lot of people use a feature, Google didn’t want to devote space to it. Fair enough, but query refinement is important. It can help people, and Google remains oddly lacking in not having it. It pops up as part of the UI tests. Get it out there. Robert Scoble Wants What We Had — Better Query Refinement. So Do I! covers more on why this would be helpful.
5. Easier access to all your tools. Life at Google is more than web, images, groups, news, Froogle and local. Maybe I want to switch to mobile search, book search, catalog search or yes yes yes blog search with an easy click from the existing query I’ve done. I can’t. I can’t even if I use your toolbar. Many of these services remain in “visit directly” mode. Please fix that. Yahoo lets me add new tabs. Ask lets me plus I can move things around. Awesome. Do the same, please.
6. Make Google.com show the same results regardless of country. You have country-specific editions. They give people the option to choose if they want a country skew. Given this, don’t automatically skew anyway if someone has chosen to search the entire web. It’s confusing when different people in different countries are comparing results. See Blair “Liar” Linkbomb Highlights Country-Specific Skewing for more on this.
7. RSS feed for web search. OK, I know the results don’t change much, and I know that RSS feeds of web search that Yahoo and MSN offer are hardly winning over mass numbers of users. Still, why not? Since you offer RSS for news search results and other things, let me monitor web search the same way.
8. Use of Open Directory titles & descriptions: You know plenty of webmasters don’t like having their titles and descriptions replaced by Open Directory material. Give them the option to tell you no, on this front. Details here; push ahead and make it a reality.
9. Stop caching pages: I was all for opt-out with cached pages until a court gave you far more right to reprint anything than anyone could have expected. Now you’ve got to make it opt-in. You helped create the caching mess by just assuming it was legal to reprint web pages online without asking, using opt-out as your cover. Now you’ve had that backed up legally, but that doesn’t make it less evil.
10. Give us paid web search support: Folks are still obsessing about being listed in Google. They worry they’ve been banned and any number of other problems. Give them a guaranteed support mechanism. Poor Matt Cutts — his blog is going to collapse under the comments of Cuttlets flocking there in lieu of other alternatives.
11. Give advertisers the ability to pick and choose in search: It took you years to almost grudgingly give advertisers the ability to pick-and-choose what content sites they have their ads appear on, despite them wanting this from day one. We had lame excuses that you didn’t want to “confuse” or “overwhelm” them with options. OK, now you’ve done good by giving them choice. Let them also decide if they want to pick-and-choose in the search ads space, as well.
12. Be more responsive to click fraud complaints: I’ve heard from too many advertisers who have felt over the years like they’re making something up when they come forth with click fraud concerns. You’re promising to do better. Please deliver. Make them feel supported. Work with the third parties. Help them help you be successful, not sued again.
13. Make AdWords once again a program that links ads to keywords for advertisers and publishers; AdSense a program that contextually places ads and DomainSense a program that puts ads on parked domains. Having AdWords as the program that puts ads into Adsense For Search/Content/Domains is confusing. More here. Also make DomainSense a third channel that can be purchased independently of the other two. It’s not necessarily bad traffic there. Might even be better. But it should be a standalone choice.
14. Break out search revenues from other types of ad revenues. We can’t know the state of health for actual search advertising — advertising where an ad appears if someone’s actually entered a search term — if it’s lumped in among your AdSense for content revenues. Please don’t contribute to the contextual pollution. It’ll hurt you down the line if one channel starts to weaken and the other remains healthy. Failure to breakout means that people will assume all of “search” is having trouble.
15. Put the brakes on self-serve AdSense. We knew AdSense was on its way to replacing Amazon’s affiliate program for generating crap content when the first “earn millions on AdSense” guides came out. A search for adsense on Google even gives me an ad for someone selling over 100 “adsense ready” content sites that people can buy. Is this what you want to fund? An economy where everyone and their brother and sister shoves up the same content, which you then index, which is essentially the same thing? I know the self-serve program has helped you dominate the contextual space. But you fuel so much junk! Can’t you be more selective? Give more money to the people who are really working to produce information rather than just ad revenues.
16. Stop giving away Blogger for free. It’s just full of junk. Junk, junk, junk. If you let anyone have it with no barriers, surprise, some are going to take it and do bad things with it. Problems With Splogs & Time-Based Searching covers how you’ve reinvented free home page spam that sucked in the 90s. Why are you allowing it again now? Charge people even a token amount ($1 even), and that will be a big barrier. Who’s going to ding you for charging a $1 start-up fee that you can levy through Google Payments? If you must give away for free, find a better, more trusted mechanism to partner with schools or others. Or make all Blogger blogs banned from being spidered for the first 30 days and open them up after that upon review. If that’s not perfect, then figure something else out. But do something.
17. Act fast on copyright infringement at Blogger. The worst thing about Google Blog Search is that it makes it even easier for me to see who is stealing my content. And many of them are doing it via Blogger. If I have time later, I’ll document the Byzantine process it takes to inform you of copyright infringement. Then after a week, you eventually ask for a lengthy DMCA request to be filled out. I don’t have time to do one of these every five minutes that you allow someone to infringe my content without barrier on your service. Have some humanity. Use some common sense. Have someone actually look at what your told. In about 30 seconds, you can generally tell the crap site reported for stealing is indeed a crap site you should remove. Shut them down under a terms of service violation rather than running for cover and helping no one on the DMCA route.
18. Fix Gmail’s “custom from” problem. If you’re going to let me send things as if I have my own mail server, then actually ensure that people really believe I have my own mail server. Your “Custom From” problem that I cover here is causing people to think they have to send now to both my “real” domain and my Gmail address. I have my own SMTP server. I used yours because I wanted to archive my outgoing mail. But I and others can’t do this if you don’t fulfill the promise that we’d have our own domain in the From field. Charge me if you have to, but fix it.
19. Let Gmail display more than 100 items. After archiving 50,000 messages 100 items at a time, I really wished for the ability to view more than 100 items per page. I still want that when I’m having to review about 300 spam items per day. This can’t be that hard. Can’t we have it?
20. Let Gmail have customized blacklists. You do a good job catching spam, but you’re not perfect. I have no way of filtering out what you are missing, to help you get better. I explain more here. Work with Mailwasher, and I’ll especially think you rock.
21. Give me a list of all my referring pages in Google Analytics and make them clickable. C’mon. WebTrends has offered stuff like this since, I dunno, WebTrends 1.0? But in Google Analytics, I have to go to Referral Conversion, then see individual URLs rolled up under sites, then cut and paste things if I want to go to the page that sent me traffic. It could, and should, be much easier.
22. Stop opening products to everyone, then getting overwhelmed. The story is getting tiring. Everyone’s invited to use Google Web Accelerator, then you pull it down. Come get Google Analytics, then you shut it down to newcomers to demand. Come get Google Page Creator, then it closes (Missed out? Just go use Yahoo GeoCities). You know whatever you roll out is going to get overwhelmed. Figure out another way to open it up. The demand is no longer making it seem like your products are hot. It’s making it seem like you are lame and can’t anticipate or handle the rush.
23. Charge for things! Seriously, I’m getting frightened. I love that anyone can get free analytics, email, you name it from you. But I’m fearful that people also can’t get support for when things go wrong. I think this guy’s still trying to get an official response on what happened to his lost Gmail account. Meanwhile, I worry that companies I want competing with you, to keep you on your toes, can’t do so when you use advertising to underwrite everything. It just feels anti-competitive. Plus, aren’t you kind of sick of shoving ads at us everywhere? Don’t I have enough ads on the floor of my supermarket already? Can’t part of Google’s mission be to help reduce advertising in places where I don’t need it?
24. Remember it’s not about selling. Google Video started with searchable TV content. That got dropped when the new video sales began. OK, the official line is that you’re working with providers about bringing back the TV content. The unspoken truth is you can’t cut those deals to sell TV entertainment shows without dropping the taping. But do work on ways to bring it back. Yes, there’s a reason why video search is closely related to video shopping. But being able to keyword search across things like news shows or popular references in entertainment content was informational. And that’s your mission, right? Organize the world’s information, not just sell TV shows. Similarly, as you begin to sell books or build out the Google Base content, don’t just become an Amazon or eBay alternative.
25. Fix the philosophy. I’ve written before about how your philosophy page has a big disconnect with reality. It feels even further disconnected these days. You’re doing 100 different things rather than “one thing really, really well.” As for “you can make money without doing evil,” you know that’s not so when you yourselves created an evil scale to decide just how bad bowing to Chinese censorship would be for you. Give us a realistic philosophy, one that doesn’t give you so far to fall from lofty heights. We’ll like you more for it, rather than the excuses and spin when you can’t do what you say you should do.
Want to add your own gripes? Disagree with mine? Please visit our What Do You Hate About Google? thread at the Search Engine Watch Forums.
Postscript: “” Hey! This philosophy is past its expiration date from Doug Edwards over at Xooglers has some nice background on how the philosophy page came to be, since he drafted up the original one 🙂
Meanwhile, my list made Digg here, where I’ve answered a variety of criticisms about it from Diggers. Most of the critics don’t really seem to have actually read my article much less any of the extended explanations I pointed at. But despite being called “idiot” repetitively and accused of not being “grown up” enough because my name is Danny, I’ve tried to explain some of the issues more. You may find those explanations interesting. Certainly reading the trolling and scorn is fun! For the record (like it really matters), I’m Danny because that’s my name. It’s not Dan or Daniel. It’s actually Danny.
Postscript 2: First Digged, now Matted (Cutted? Cuttsed?). Google’s Matt Cutts says his Google++ post is just for Googlers only, but I’m sure he won’t mind if you give it a read. He has briefly disagrees with me on some points, which is cool and understandable. But he also encourages others at Google to take up some of what I’ve written as a bug report, which is very much in line with my thinking. And I’ll say again, these are just my suggestions. If you’ve got your own, things that you’d especially like to see Google work on, post them in our forum thread or on Matt’s blog. I know Google won’t solve all of my or your requests — but perhaps we’ll see more of these taken care of, along with cool new things to come.
Posted by Danny Sullivan at March 13, 2006 4:15 PM