Google has been taking some heat recently. As Blake Ross notes: "Google is now displaying “tips” that point searchers to Google Calendar, Blogger and Picasa for any search phrase that includes “calendar” (e.g. Yahoo calendar), “blog” and “photo sharing,” respectively." These tips aren't part of the search results themselves, but they appear above the search results and therefore arguably even more prominent than the #1 search result.Google has also been criticized of late for advertising its own products using AdWords. Although it makes its ad buys using the exact same mechanism as anyone else, a lot of people still feel that it's not a level playing field if Google is simply taking money from one pocket to put it in another.
However, none of this involves "Google-biasing" the search results themselves. Contrariwise, I had a very interesting experience over on Microsoft Live image search earlier today. I searched for my name (Gordon Haff) and the top result was... unexpected.The first result is indeed associated with me; it's an ad that I used to illustrate this Illuminata Perspectives entry. What is manifestly curious however is that this posting just so happened to be about Microsoft!
Was it perhaps because this particular posting of mine was so overwhelmingly popular that it just percolated to the top of the search rankings? I think that unlikely. I can go for page after page of Google Image search without this image appearing. Ditto for Ask.com.Did the presence of "Microsoft" and/or other keywords boost this particular result way up in the standings? It certainly seems so. Which would be a big no-no indeed if you're ostensibly providing unbiased search results.
[UPDATE: In regular web searches on Microsoft Live, my Blogger profile is the #1 entry. However, the #2 and #3 entries in a Gordon Haff search also feature "Microsoft" prominently even though they are nowhere near the top in other search engines.]
[UPDATE #2: Google Tips are apparently gone, at least for now.]