The Wall Street Journal, which generally seems to oppose all proposed government regulations unless they're aimed at Google, has fired off another tirade, which prompted a quick public response from Google's Amit Singhal.
The focus again is the perceived fairness of search results, and the continuing crazy clarion call that Google Search results should somehow be "regulated" to ... well ... actually, what they'd be regulated to do isn't really clear at all.
The whole point of search is to provide the best, most relevant and useful results to users, not to try fulfill the impossible quest of sites to all have top rankings.
Unless value judgments are applied to rankings, you don't have a guide to usefulness and relevancy, you have what amounts to a phone book. The concept of the government becoming involved in search results regulation should strike more fear in the hearts of free speech, anti-censorship proponents than SOPA, PIPA, and CISPA rolled into one nightmare bundle.
Some observers continue to insist on conflating Google's organic, natural search results with paid ads and related paid placements separate from organic results, with the loudest complainers seeming to routinely be firms upset about their low natural rankings, often despite their use of "black hat" SEO techniques that Google explicitly and wisely uses as signals of low site quality.
What's really fascinating is that when you look empirically at specific examples, it's obvious that Google's algorithms create fair and reasonable organic results, and this observation is only enhanced by comparing these results with Google's competitors.
Let's explore six screenshots, all taken yesterday via Internet Explorer (which is not my browser of choice), when logged out of all services (Google, Bing, and Yahoo).
In the first three shots, I simply searched for maps. As you can see, Google returns its own map product as the first natural (organic) result. But before the Google-haters jump in, note that in shots two and three, both Bing (a Microsoft service) and Yahoo (now affiliated with Microsoft) also show Google Maps as the first natural result! No unfair bias there -- everyone seems to agree that Google Maps deserves to be on top.
Now, there is an oddity on the third screenshot (for Yahoo). Note (see my red arrow) that above that first organic result (for Google Maps), Yahoo presents a dedicated Yahoo Maps input box, of a sort that neither Bing nor Google provided for themselves for the generic maps search. Hmm.
How do we know that Yahoo Maps box isn't an organic result? Note that unlike all the following results, the Yahoo Maps entry at the top does not include a displayed URL (in green text).
Now let's move on to shots four, five, and six. A complaint being made against Google is that they provide direct answers to some queries that have specific answers available. This obviously is good for users, but how do Bing and Yahoo handle such a situation?
We search for map of cleveland. Surprise! All three services return a top result of a specific map from their own service. Google returns a Google Map result, Bing a Bing Maps result, and Yahoo a Yahoo result (the Yahoo map says Nokia on it, but includes an embedded Yahoo copyright -- recall that both Yahoo and Nokia are now affiliated with Microsoft).
Amit is right. The Wall Street Journal is wrong. Case closed.
Addendum: It is reasonable to note that the originally referenced WSJ article was at least ostensibly an opinion (op-ed) piece not authored by WSJ, and that the next day WSJ ran an article that on its face appeared to take the opposite stance, by attacking the FTC and (by proxy) President Obama. It also appears, however, that this second article was visible only in the more expensive "Professional" version of WSJ, not the broader circulation regular version where the original article was present. This seems to be classic Rupert Murdoch duplicity in action, using surrogates to play various sides of an issue. This becomes even more clear when one considers the series of anti-Google articles that have been running in WSJ, mostly seeming to feature implicit or explicit "something must be done!" rhetoric.