When it comes to boosting search relevance and quality, Google executives and top-level engineers will swear they aren't influenced by competitors so much as by improving the experience for users.
This makes sense. There isn't a company in the world within eyesight of Google's massive 65 to 70 percent worldwide market share lead.
What can't be argued is how secretive Google has historically been about discussing the machinations of its world-beating search engine. That's why it was surprising to see Google reveal the wizard, or wizards, behind the curtain with regard to search.
Google basically gave BusinessWeek bureau chief Rob Hof the keys to its search kingdom at the GooglePlex for a series of interviews with the company's top search masterminds and CEO Eric Schmidt.
How rare is this? Very. Even Hof called out his own good fortune:
"To explore Google's prospects for staying ahead, BusinessWeek recently got a close look at the highly secretive search quality group. Its mathematical formulas and methods are closely guarded to stymie competitors and prevent spammers from gaming the system."
The interviews cover a lot of ground, from real-time search, search localization and spam control. If you are lover of all things search and all things Google, you must not spare a word. How to go about consuming the content?
You can see them collected here by Google search spam bouncer Matt Cutts. It's good weekend reading.
A morsel on real-time from Amit Singhal, who runs the core ranking team for Google's search quality group:
"Q: What about truly real-time search?A: Freshness has been a focus for awhile. There are lots of things that we are working on. We are deeply aware of the potential and the challenges in real-time search.It's not just Twitter. It's all of the stuff being updated on a real-time basis. Twitter is a great service. But when it comes to information and information needs for users, the quality of content is critical. Someone who has put thought and hours into writing a story about Google and someone [else] comes along and says either Google's great or Google sucks in three words. Just because something was said 20 seconds ago doesn't quite make it something we should put in front of our users.Not to say someone couldn't say something important in the last 20 seconds. And that's where our years of experience with crawling, indexing, and relevance comes in."
I'm not going to analyze the content here, but it does point to an emerging trend at Google. For the first several years while Google quietly amassed its search arsenal, the company was very hush hush on the mechanics behind its search engine.
In the last three years, Google has offered few and far between glimpses to select media of this issue. Indeed, a Google search spokesman today pointed me to this June 2007 New York Times piece and this piece in Popular Mechanics from April 2008. Now we have Hof's package to enjoy.
So, the company is not as secretive as it once was.
Google could only afford to be standoffish with media and analysts with its core search, which rose to power on super-relevance and viral word-of-mouth. Meanwhile, the Google Apps team has always been willing to chat about the collaboration market.
Do you see the difference? Google's search grew from seed to the biggest pumpkin in the patch in a decade-plus. Its chefs have so closely guarded the ingredients, claiming fear of competitive copycats.
Google search has been untouchable and unassailable, so its chefs have license to be so secretive about the sauce. Google Apps is starting from the bottom in a mature market so it behooves it to insert itself in the collaboration conversation.
So, why is Google no so chatty about search? What has changed?
Perhaps Google got tired of the secrecy, realizing that it's better to be a little more friendly to the people covering it. Yeah, I don't buy that one either. Moving on.
One possibility is it realized no one is going to catch it in the search market, so why not open things up a bit? Could be.
Maybe Google is hyping its search a little more to bait Bing, effectively telling Microsoft: Come and get us, take your best shot, etc.
Why not? The emergence of Microsoft Bing and Microsoft's subsequent bid to power Yahoo's search with it has spiced up a Google-centric search market.
Behind innovation, rampant marketing and regular blogging since it's June launch, Bing is drawing a lot of attention and buzz, making search cooler than it was when Google was perhaps the only search company worth talking about on a regular basis.
Perhaps Google decided to embrace its brilliance and show a little bit of the magic that helped make it the Harry Potter of Web search to Microsoft's desktop Voldemort.
Time will tell if Bing will help Microsoft reverse those roles.