On Wednesday, I moderated a special panel at the Churchill Club involving the Googlers who oversee Google’s search algorithm, its search features and its spam fighting efforts. We covered a wide-range of search issues, and a video of the talk is now available.

Three Kings Of Search

In my opening to the session, I joked that if I had to summarize what each of the panelists — Amit Singhal, Ben Gomes and Matt Cutts — did in one work, then Singhal would be the brains, Gomes would be the looks and Cutts would be the brawn.

Singhal oversees the ranking algorithm, how Google decides what content should be shown in response to a search.

Gomes oversees the features that help you search better, as well as the user interface “look” that lets you interact with Google search.

Cutts is the bouncer, the chief of police, the person in charge of keeping the people who would spam and bring disorder to Google’s results under control.

The Churchill Club had been wanting to do a panel on search for some time, and when they approached me about one involving Google, I’d suggested that bringing all three men together would be interested. They oversee search in different ways, and they’d never been on a panel together before.

Officemates

In particular, was struck by a passage in Steven Levy’s excellent book (short review: buy it! longer review coming), “In The Plex,” where engineer David Bailey is quoted about being assigned to work in an office with Singhal, Gomes and Cutts — “definitely the cool kids” office, he said.

I’ve been fortunate in my years of covering Google to have been in that office several times, hearing the three talk about search issues. So it was nice to bring the office to the stage.

Topics Covered

I’ll try to recap some of the highlights in the coming days. It was an hour-and-a-half long talk, so there’s a lot to digest. But here are the topics covered:

  • Introductions and how each came to be at Google.
  • Short overview of how search engines work.
  • How does Google decide what to rank?
  • Google’s been under increasing pressure to improve its results, with updates coming such as Panda. How does it decide what works?
  • How does Google decide what’s spam?
  • Google’s being attacked that it’s trying to keep competitors out of its results. What’s your take on these claims?
  • How do you deal with the inherent conflict of hosting content that itself might be listed in your results?
  • Why not make manual changes to remove offensive content?
  • Is there a “filter bubble” that’s happening because of personalized search?
  • What’s the role social is playing in search, especially with the launch of Google+?
  • How can relevancy be measured?

There’s also audience Q&A after that, including Google saying that it understands that people want Google Real Time Search back after it was closed, and that it is working on this as well as making it possible to search Google+ content.

You’ll also find some write-ups of the event here:

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