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Being cranky for a living

I guess there’s a way to make a living at being cranky. I’ve long enjoyed John Dvorak‘s columns, stemming all the way back to the early days of the PC, and he certainly has elevated the curmudgeonly column to an art form. But I guess I wonder whether it sometimes is more entertaining than informative, such as his recent provacatively titled “Google Must Die” column. He does the usual complaining about how search results aren’t any good and it’s insane to expect them to improve as long as we use this ridiculous PageRank thing Google invented. Perhaps I am too close to the business, but I am more likely to sit in wonderment about how good search is than to bemoan its very real failures.

Computer columnist John C. Dvorak.

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I take with a grain of salt John’s rants about the poor search results, because I have over 20 years of experience with search, and I know where we came from. When I first started, it was considered miraculous to just be able to find the right documents if you knew the words in it–oh, and searching through several thousand documents was considered a large search index.
So, those of us that once sentenced ourselves to a trip to the library to scan the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature can appreciate that we find what we need a little bit faster and more conveniently now. But, to John’s point, if it’s so bad, why does usage continue to grow at an amazing pace? It reminds me of the Winston Churchill quote that “democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried.” Search is really awful except when you compare it to any other way of finding what you are looking for.
But all of this can be excused as just a back-handed compliment to Google’s success, in that we now take the magic for granted and notice only when it fails, like baseball fans who expect an umpire to start out perfect and improve with age. He makes the accurate point that popularity does not mean quality, but the real problem with John’s column is when he complains that the search results for two different searchers are different.
Personalized search is actually our best hope of moving beyond the merely popular to the more personally relevant. Search relevance has always been about the content, about analyzing the words better. But if relevance is the match between the searcher and the content, then why aren’t we analyzing the searcher, too?
John’s criticism that two people using the same search terms can’t find the same results is off-base. That is buying into the old model that we just want to match search words to content. We don’t. We want all searchers to find what they personally are looking for.
And this isn’t some futuristic notion. Personalized search is already here, on a limited basis. You should expect that to expand greatly in the coming months, in my opinion. I further believe that it is the single most important untapped relevancy booster–more personalization will make search results far more relevant than they are today.
If I’m right, then John might have to find something else to be cranky about.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is a Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also served as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website,, most recently as the Manager of Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He was a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research and is now a Senior Fellow of The Conference Board. A Certified Speaking Professional, Mike regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide.

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