Did Google Push The Panic Button? - InformationWeek

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Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
7/13/2009
11:57 AM
Michael Hickins
Michael Hickins
Commentary
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Did Google Push The Panic Button?

I didn't agree with everything David Pogue wrote in his glowing review of Bing last week, but I did agree that Google would try to duplicate or surpass any improvements Microsoft would bring to search.

I didn't agree with everything David Pogue wrote in his glowing review of Bing last week, but I did agree that Google would try to duplicate or surpass any improvements Microsoft would bring to search.According to Pogue, the two will keep playing a game of "can you top this?"

Bing will keep getting better -- but so, inevitably, will Google. If Google doesn't eventually respond by making its own results more manageable in Bingish ways, I'll eat my hat.

What neither of us realized is that Google would overreact to this extent. (And no, I'm not talking about Chrome.) Google today announced a new feature to its map search that looks wonderful on the surface:

Knowing the geographical location of a place is only part of the story. It's often just as valuable to get a sense of what the place is like, and there's no better way to do that than by looking at images of some of its most important sights.

The new feature shows pictures overlaid on maps, ostensibly so that people will know they've found the Eiffel Tower when they stumble upon it thanks to Google's map of Paris. Google specifically highlighted Paris in its blog, so like a good little doggy, I searched for "Paris, France" to test the feature.

The problem for Google, though, is that I happen to have lived in Paris for seven years and speak French fluently, and I know un tas de merde when I see one. Mixed in with obligatory snapshots of the Eiffel Tower and the Moulin Rouge, for instance, is a photo of the "echafaudage." Believe me, it's not worth the trip to see "scaffolding," unless you're an architect I suppose. Not exactly my definition of "its most important sights."

To achieve this effect, Google simply mashed up user-generated photos with its map, resulting in a mish-mash of semi-effective information. There's definitely a place for user generated content, but crowd-sourcing information should be a conscious decision, not something that's foisted upon users in the guise of reliable information. People who use Google maps aren't looking for views from apartments they'll never see or points of interest to people completely unlike themselves.

Beyond its flaws, the inherent messiness of the feature, which seems even more rushed to market than usual, reveals the extent to which Bing has Google worried. If, as Robert Cringley suggests, Bing is nothing more than Microsoft's way of goosing Google, it looks like it's mission accomplished.

Bing hasn't a hope of toppling Google as the premier search engine and Microsoft knows it... But thanks to Microsoft's deep pockets and fierce screwball reputation, Bing has already accomplished its main purpose: reminding Google executives who they're messing with.

Google has indeed been lobbing lots of grenades Microsoft's way these days, and as Anil Dash suggests, this might be a symptom of Google having lost its innocence.

Google's innocence is actually as mythical as that of the American past, and just as irrelevant today. Google's strength has been its ability to deliver online services that people need but couldn't get. But if this new search feature is any indication, in paying too much mind to Microsoft, Google has lost its way.

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