Google's Marissa Mayer Discusses Bing, Data Collection & Anonymity

 
 
By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-07-30 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

As I mentioned last weekend would happen, Digg co-founder Kevin Rose interviewed Google's Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products and user experience, July 29. This was a Digg Dialogg, which meant Digg users "dug" the 10 best questions, which Rose posed to Mayer in a taped session in San Francisco.

Here is the full, almost 24-minute interview, but you can read my synopsis below in 5 minutes before you decide to put the time into hearing it all:

Digg Dialogg with Google's Marissa Mayer from Digg Videos on Vimeo.

1. Do you ever get disturbed at what you see as most searched topics?

Mayer says she doesn't get disturbed by search topics. Of course not, she is a machine-engineered human from the Matrix and feels nothing. Just kidding, but did you see this piece in the Times on artificial intelligence? Mayer actually says it's interesting to see what captures people's imaginations when they search. She touts the hot trends tool on Google's search.

2. With products like Google Docs, Voice and Wave as well as Chrome OS, Google seems to strongly encourage the move to the cloud. However, a lot of users do not have fast Internet access and have relatively low bandwidth caps. Do you consider ISPs as a major bottleneck in the user experience of a cloud-oriented system? If so, what do you think can be done fix or circumvent that potential problem?

Mayer says the Web needs to be faster in general because of the rich Web applications programmers build. She says bandwidth speed will improve over time, but that's why Google is experimenting with Google Gears and Google Web Accelerator. Then she utters the mantra about a better Web being better for users, who will search more on Google. She says that's why Google fought for white spaces, to see if the spectrum could be used to boost bandwidth across the nation.

Rose then expands the question, asking if all Google apps will eventually live in the cloud. Mayer says the cloud makes sense, noting how data on a PC can get lost, but not if it's stored on large companies' servers. She doesn't actually say, "It's safer if your data is on Google servers," but you know that's what she meant.

3. What are you going to do with all the data you are collecting about your users?

Mayer touts transparency, telling people what data they have and how it's being used. She talks about giving users the power to delete their search session information. This is another iteration of the company line, which Web security and privacy warrior Christopher Soghoian debunks here.

She also mentions behavioral targeting, and how Google lets users move, change or delete cookies in their profile. I've used this Google Ads Preferences manager before. It seems legit. Anyone want to debunk that?

Rose then asks a good question: whether or not Google will use the information it collects on users' browsing sessions to provide recommendations. For example, using information users generate from searching on Google Maps to make local restaurant suggestions.

She tiptoes around this question, acknowledging that past searches and knowing location improve search.

4. What happened to the 10th to the 100th promise Google made on its last birthday to put $10 million into the best ideas submitted to Google and winnowed by a vote of the public with final selections made by a panel selected by Google? The initial decision-making was to have come in December, then it was delayed due to the huge response ... and now it appears to have gone by the wayside.

Mayer says while there was a huge response, the project has huge execution hurdles. Google is looking at feasibility. Google will be making announcements on a winning idea this fall.

5. How do you feel about Bing? I believe the search engine has some very positive features. Does Google plan on implementing any significant changes in response to Bing's release?

Her answer is interesting. She says Google welcomes competition in search but that Google has no plans to drastically alter its approach. She acknowledges Microsoft is a strong competitor behind Bing, but says Bing copied Google! Read more about it here.

6. What Google beta product are you most excited about at the moment?

Mayer has to be vague here, of course. Can't give up the crown jewels. She also explains the beta process at Google, how amorphous it is. This is funny because Gmail took five-plus years to come out of beta. She does tout Google Wave, the wacky real-time collaboration tool.

Google Wave is rolling out to thousands of programmers in a developer preview. I got to see a demo last night from Wave creators Lars and Jens Rasmussen and will blog on it with screenshots.

Rose, proving to be a formidable interviewer, then asks whether Google will keep Wave as a stand-alone product, or drag it into some Google Apps, such as Gmail.

Mayer says she believes it's both -- some features could make their way into Gmail and Chat.

7. What do you think of Wolfram|Alpha?

Mayer echoes some of the competition comments, pointing to the new push in innovation these products may lead to. She points to the launch of Google Squared, and talks about reexamining the whole search paradigm, doing data extraction, comparison tables and semantic intelligence.

"It tells me just how early we are in search." She wonders what search will be in 2025. Will it be voice-prompted, completely mobile?

8. Who do you think is Google's biggest threat?

She says Google sees threats as opportunities to innovate. Complacency is the biggest threat.

Rose persists, asking if Mayer considers Twitter and real-time search a threat. Mayer says it could be complementary, which is a logical response given Google (and Facebook) tried to buy Twitter this year. I agree -- Twitter won't kill Google any more than Google will kill Twitter.

9. Could you please take us through a day in the life of "the boss"?

Yawn. Lots of meetings.

10. Is Google Skynet?

Skynet is the AI system that became self-aware and revolted against its creators in the Terminator movies:

terminator pic.png

Mayer says, no, we're a search engine. We care about innovation and great things happening. She hopes computers get a lot smarter, but says that's a big difference from an AI system trying to stomp out humanity. She may be right. :)

Rose presses the point, asking about in the Web in general, if users should be concerned Google and others are collecting so much data on us.

Mayer says consumers need to be informed. She says anonymity bothers her most, noting the virtual world is following the physical world. She says there are very few things that can be hidden in the physical world, but in the virtual world it's easier for users to hide.

This, she said, is not good. But it's changing, thanks to Google and others:

Over time, on the Internet, there will be less anonymity and I actually think that's good. I think it creates more accountability, people acting more responsibly. Overall, we all want the Web to be great and I think that's something we really need to work on.

Hmmmm. Is it me, or do you think those comments will be twisted and come back to haunt Google in antitrust debates?

 
 
 
 
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