Just came across an interesting post by Bill Slawski on the subject of a patent granted to Google last week titled ‘Search result ranking based on trust‘. There’s been a lot of talk about trustworthiness being the next big factor to be considered in search engine algorithms but it makes me wonder how useful it would be in reality.

When I use Google to search for something what I’m really looking for is the most relevant result I can find which will answer my query. To be honest, I often couldn’t care less how much I trust the source as long as it’s reputable (maybe rep is a better factor?).

Where I can see a trust (or rep) factor being useful is with weeding out spam search results who have got themselves a really good natural search ranking. Beyond that I’m not convinced it’s required for normal web search (except perhaps as an option or it would be useful in a search through social streams like Twitter, but here I’m referring to the kind of search you do through http://www.google.com).

You see, to some extent trust is in the eye of the beholder and a very difficult thing to turn into a scientific algorithm. A source could be trustworthy to one person and not at all to another depending on many factors. So to really put an accurate trust rating on web pages is going to be extremely difficult (I think).

Would Google’s time be better spent working on relevancy ranking and using trust sparingly as a factor to filter out spam results? Or do you think trust has a bigger place in the future of search algorithms (maybe trust/rep on news/blog search)? Interested to hear your thoughts…

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There’s so much talk about news at the moment with the moves to bring back paywalls (as I’ve written about previously here) and the general nervousness among old media houses that the likes of Google are stealing their thunder (and their ad dollars). Everyone is musing about how this will play out, who will be the winners and what is actually the best way to deliver news to web users. A couple of things have struck me in the last couple of days that deserved a blog post.

Firstly, Google have launched a new product from its labs department. Google Fast Flip is being touted as a new way to read the news, that brings the web experience more in line with newspapers. Basically Google has taken screenshots of web pages containing news stories and put them into a neat user interface that allows you to flip between stories and zoom in on them before deciding whether to click through to the original article.

Google Fast Flip

Google Fast Flip

It’s a really nice way to browse and a great UX to find serendipitous content as you might stumble across something you’re interested in. Of course there’s also Google’s search power under the hood so you can narrow down the content available, isn’t there?

No, it seems that Google hasn’t put it’s search power to good use by letting you search the full content of the articles available (I’ve tested it by searching for specific content within the stories). It is actually just a nice UI to flip and browse through news stories, it doesn’t put that UI on top of the power of Google News though.

Secondly, Microsoft recently unveiled a vision of a ‘Next-Generation Newspaper’ as part of a response to a request from the Newspaper Association of America asking for ideas about ‘monetizing digital content’. The next-generation newspaper delivered as part of their response is remarkably similar to Tweetdeck, as noted by Nieman Journalism Lab today.

Microsofts idea for a 'next-generation newspaper'

Microsofts idea for a 'next-generation newspaper'

The news-deck delivers content in an RSS reader kind of way using a stack of Microsoft technology, content and advertising products. It looks good, and the promise of semantic search, personalisation and contextual awareness is promising.

So, are either of these a ground breaking new way to consume news and do they hold enough promise to herald the future of web based news reading? I don’t think so. They both offer nice solutions to different types of user scenario in my opinion.

Google Fast Flip is a great UI that allows for casual browsing of the news in a similar kind of way to which I read the Sunday newspapers. It’s a coffee and bacon sandwich type situation, but not a serious trawl for information experience for me. It’s too much detail upfront with not enough ability to refine for anyone serious (or used to) discovering content online or even using RSS readers. At least with an RSS reader you can make your choices of who to subscribe to and read articles based on headlines or quick glances at the content. Yes, this is a quick way to thumb the pages but it’s a little gimicky for me and doesn’t fulfill my needs for consuming information. Google partnered with top newspapers to create this but I don’t think it helps them. Digital news content is consumed in a different way to paper content and I think this needs more work before it could ever become the norm for online news reading. Must admit it’s nice on an iPhone though!

Microsoft’s  news-deck aproach suits my needs much better. It has the search and refine type features I’d demand and a familiar UI that works for dashboard type experiences. Is it the future? I don’t think so. I actually think it’s a little lame of Microsoft to propose a solution like this to the challenge from the NAA, it’s too similar to RSS readers and looks too like a cross between Netvibes and Tweetdeck. In fact if you read the details of their response (available from the Nieman Labs post) it really does just sound like next-gen Netvibes to me. It’s not really the future, more what we have now mk2.

Now I’m not sure what the future of news consumption is but I’m pretty sure this isn’t it. If you could combine the two you might be getting somewhere, if Fast Flip allowed me to search and read all the content and not click off to the news source it might be better and if Microsofts dashboard wasn’t just a rehashed Netdeck/Tweetvibe it might get me more excited. Personally I’m seeking something more intelligent and with better data mining possibilities to satisfy my search for news (and I wouldn’t limit it to news, any solution should be my medium for information consumption as a whole).

One thing this does make apparent though is that as much as the newspapers and old media want to pull their content in and keep it close, they are going to have to relinquish their hold and let their content free as whatever the user experience of the future is it will demand that.

Search engine marketers aren’t having an easy time with Google these days.

Google have made a change to the search results interface which aims to make it more Digg/Wiki like by allowing users to move results up and down the list, delete sites from a results set and even add sites into a set of results.

For the user this is actually a really nice piece of functionality as it allows you to tailor search results to make them more relevant to you, I’m assuming it’s all stored in your web history so future searches keep the customisation.

What this does do is make it really hard for a search engine marketer to know whether what they see as the top ten results on Google is what the users are seeing. In most cases the answer is probably no now.

I think it’s a great move though and could actually help to focus the search engine optimisation industry on making pages more relevant through improving content and engaging users as that is what will encourage them to keep a result high up their list!

Full details on the Google Blog.

Sometimes even a mega-company like Google casn get beaten to the mark with a new piece of functionality that they should really be providing themselves. The reasons for this? Perhaps they overstretch themselves with their range of products and can’t focus enough to add the bells and whistles we’d all like? Or maybe they get a product to the point where it gets traction and keeps acquiring users and then leave it open for the rest of us to add the bells and whistles functional pieces?

Whatever the reason, there are occasions when great additions are made to their services which they aren’t responsible. The latest of these that I’ve come across is something called Glync which has been created by a company called Virante.

It’s a Firefox plugin which grants them access to store your data from Google Webmaster Tools to enable them to show you a graph showing the history of incoming links to your site and how that changes over time. An extremely useful tool, but in my opinion one which should be a standard feature of Googles webmaster tool set.

How long will this plugin be useful? Until Google decides to offer it themselves I’d say. That said, it is a very nice piece of functionality and the free version is most useful.

Troogle? TravGoogle? GooTravel? Whatever you want to imagine the name may be the thought of Google jumping into the travel arena has operators and agents either salivating with the thought of the traffic and sales it could drive or quaking with fear at the thought of them owning the customer experience. Rumours keep appearing of the intentions of Google, but up till now there hasn’t been any obvious functionality leaking out of Googleplex which could support a serious move into travel. That is, until now (at least I’ve only just found it)…

There’s a new(ish) beta on Google for a Merchant search (only appears when you’re in the right place searching the right thing). This is basically a price comparison engine, currently only serving the loan market. My question is, could this power a travel price comparison engine and so switch users to this type of interface and functionality if they search for the right travel related keywords? Could Google then become an affiliate to travel companies? I’d imagine TravelSupermarket would hope not!!

The Google homepage rarely changes in anyway except for their tradition of adding themed logo’s to go with the season, holiday or event. Japan though has had a treat and the homepage of http://www.google.co.jp.

The new design is not available in every location (I can’t see it) but it looks much better with the addition of tabs (see below).

It really would be nice to see a redesign of the main Google homepage, I’m sure with all the services they offer it is about time they offered a better way for them to be accessed from Google.com. The tabbed design would allow them to make their services more prominent while keeping them easy to access.

It seems the mobile web is beginning to come of age at last. Could it be down to the iPhone? The greater occurrence of phones with wireless built in? Better mobile web apps? Increasing addiction to the internet so you just have to get at it everywhere you are? Well, personally I think it’s down to our increasing need for data, connections with our networks and need to access email on the go. Definitely the iPhone has made a big difference but I believe it’s social networks which will really kick start the mobile phenomenon. Just look at Japan and the iMode surge a few years ago, the majority of apps used were related to social uses and email.

Anyway, ZDNet are reporting that Google have seen a 20% increase in mobile search usage.