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June 20, 2006

Giving the engines their props

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The search engines have received a lot of flak lately, and we admit we’re just as guilty as the next guy for handing it out. But it’s not all bad news coming out of the search headquarters and sometimes the engines deserve their kudos too. Here ya go guys.

Microsoft and Google are working with the Center for Democracy & Technology to create a national consumer privacy law that would inform search engines and their users of exactly what data the government can and cannot subpoena. I, for one, welcome the opportunity to know just how many government organizations are reading my email.

Tech companies like Hewlett Packard, Intel, eBay, Oracle, Symantec and others have already signed on to support a “flexible but legal framework” designed to protect users.

Personally, I think it’s a great idea. A baseline privacy law is a necessary first step to re-build consumer trust in the Internet and will help protect all of us online. Users need to know which sites collect what information and who they are required to hand it over to. Giving consumers “reasonable access” to such information helps keep the government’s demands in check and makes sure the information is not misused.

Plus, it’s always nice to know what you’re getting yourself into before you act. Especially with the pending June 28th release of GBuy.

On a different note, Barry Schwartz points to a WMW thread where a MSN representative asks forum members to define quality and authoritative sites and gets their opinion on MSN Search as a whole.

Though we’re guilty of sometimes giving MSN a hard time, you have to commend them for consulting users about their personal search experience. I like that MSN is taking the grassroots approach to improving its algorithm and enjoyed reading msndude’s interaction with members.

The thread is interesting for a number of reasons. First, it gives webmasters a clue as to what MSN deems important today and how that might differ from what users’ find important. Based on the questions MSN is asking, it also gives them a small glimpse into where MSN may go with their algorithm, and that’s very interesting.

Where we often criticize some of the other engines for not addressing user complaints, MSN seems to be taking them seriously. Msndude says:

“[The} complaint that we “lost all/most of the quality/authority sites” is common enough that I think it’s important to really understand it. That’s all I’m trying to do here.”

I like that a lot. And I think users responded to the task well, giving msndude some harsh truths. One member explained he felt MSN placed too much importance on page titles (something they’ve likely heard before…), and that though they may place “some pertinent sites in the top ten”, they don’t always deliver the “most pertinent and most informational results possible”. Some honest observations there.

It will be interesting to see how the grassroots approach works for MSN and whether or not changes will be implemented. If anything, the now seven page thread shows search engines that users have no trouble giving their opinion. All they have to do is ask.

Good job, guys.

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