Google's Marissa Mayer on search evolution

Bambi Francisco Roizen · November 26, 2008 · Short URL:

Google executive on search iterations, such as Twitter, Cuil, human-powered search

p>In the future, the way we search today - typing into a keyboard, retrieving a list of results - will seem pretty primitive. That's why new search engines keep sprouting up each day. Even though Google continues to squash them all, and grab market share, there is still room for significant innovation. Search is at its infancy, said Marissa Mayer, VP of search products and user experience at Google, in the first of a five-part interview with me at the Vator studios. In this segment, we talk about how search is evolving, and how far we've come. 

Mayer's role at Google has included developing Google's search interface, and launching more than 100 features and products on To this end, Marissa's view on how search is going to evolve is pretty valuable, if we want to know what's ahead for Google.  

Mayer looks forward to the day that we can start thinking of search as "answers" rather than a list of things. She also thinks search will become far more personalized in order to become more relevant. (Watch for a future interview in which Marissa talks about how Google is become more social and personalized).

Having started at Google in 1999, Mayer certainly recalls the days when Google was counting the pages they indexed. I asked Mayer how search has improved and how the algorithms have changed in the past decade.

Mayer said that what started off as a simple yet incredibly useful Page rank (the algorithm named after Google co-founder Larry Page) equation has now grown to be "hundreds of signals that go into the ranking function." Additionally, Google has the benefit of a decade to understand user behavior when it comes to how they search and the obstacles they face when searching.

We also talked about search engine optimization, and how this mansion industry is affecting Google's pursuit to create relevant organic search listings. Marissa says people should optimize their pages in order to be indexed appropriately. But there are nefarious attempts to manipulate a page, like "cloaking," that Google is challenged to detect. Cloaking is an SEO technique in which content presented to the search engine is different than what is presented in the browser. The purpose of cloaking is to trick search engines so they display the page, when it would otherwise not.

What about InLinks? I asked, referring to a service that allows you to buy keywords in the text of content pages, and replace those static keywords with hyperlinks to your Web page, resulting in higher page ranking for your Web site. Mayer said that as long as the URL is relevant to the keyword, it's probably OK. “If the link itself accurately reflects the content it’s linking to. It's in the spirit of the Web, and spirt of page rank and our overall relevance algorithm," she said.

We also discussed semantic search, Powerset and what, if any, were Google's plans to incorporate natural language.

"We’re not focused on semantic search," she said. "[But] when you get to extremely large amounts of data you see a precision that mirrors semantic search."

We then moved into the discussion of Twitter, and whether Google had any plans to incorporate a search engine for real-time status information.

Twitter may be great at providing "clues" to news or events, she said. Knowledge of this accumulating sentiment could be used to drive crawlers to be more aggressive in gathering relevant results based on such clues, she said. "Twitter does have some interesting implications," she added.

We also touched on the search experience for Google's Android, and her view of human-powered search engines, such as Aardvark and Mahalo. As for Cuil, which was started by ex-Googlers and whose interface looks like the anti-Google, Mayer said it needs more indexing to better understand the value of its algorithm. 

The final question was what Marissa thought search would be like in five years. You'll have to watch to hear her answer. 

(Note: Marissa was our guest host on Vator Box evaluating SearchMe, WooMe, Viewdle, and Appssavvy. Her other interviews with me, along with our Vator Box segments will be released throughout the coming weeks.)

(This piece was originally posted on the 25th. It was re-published to highlight on the VatorNews homepage)

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Bambi Francisco Roizen

Founder and CEO of Vator, a media and research firm for entrepreneurs and investors; Managing Director of Vator Health Fund; Co-Founder of Invent Health; Author and award-winning journalist.

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Backed by Niklas Zennström's (Skype Founder) Atomico Investments, the original investors in Skype (Mangrove Capital), and Klaus Hommels (Europe's Investor of the Year, 2006), WooMe is catapulting the $1 billion+ speed dating market into the online world. With WooMe, meeting people online is transformed into a live interactive experience that makes sifting through contrived profiles a thing of the past.

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What is Twitter?

Twitter is an online information network that allows anyone with an account to post 140 character messages, called tweets. It is free to sign up. Users then follow other accounts which they are interested in, and view the tweets of everyone they follow in their "timeline." Most Twitter accounts are public, where one does not need to approve a request to follow, or need to follow back. This makes Twitter a powerful "one to many" broadcast platform where individuals, companies or organizations can reach millions of followers with a single message. Twitter is accessible from, our mobile website, SMS, our mobile apps for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, our iPad application, or 3rd party clients built by outside developers using our API. Twitter accounts can also be private, where the owner must approve follower requests. 

Where did the idea for Twitter come from?

Twitter started as an internal project within the podcasting company Odeo. Jack Dorsey, and engineer, had long been interested in status updates. Jack developed the idea, along with Biz Stone, and the first prototype was built in two weeks in March 2006 and launched publicly in August of 2006. The service grew popular very quickly and it soon made sense for Twitter to move outside of Odea. In May 2007, Twitter Inc was founded.

How is Twitter built?

Our engineering team works with a web application framework called Ruby on Rails. We all work on Apple computers except for testing purposes. 

We built Twitter using Ruby on Rails because it allows us to work quickly and easily--our team likes to deploy features and changes multiple times per day. Rails provides skeleton code frameworks so we don't have to re-invent the wheel every time we want to add something simple like a sign in form or a picture upload feature.

How do you make money from Twitter?

There are a few ways that Twitter makes money. We have licensing deals in place with Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft's Bing to give them access to the "firehose" - a stream of tweets so that they can more easily incorporate those tweets into their search results.

In Summer 2010, we launched our Promoted Tweets product. Promoted Tweets are a special kind of tweet which appear at the top of search results within, if a company has bid on that keyword. Unlike search results in search engines, Promoted Tweets are normal tweets from a business, so they are as interactive as any other tweet - you can @reply, favorite or retweet a Promoted Tweet. 

At the same time, we launched Promoted Trends, where companies can place a trend (clearly marked Promoted) within Twitter's Trending Topics. These are especially effective for upcoming launches, like a movie or album release.

Lastly, we started a Twitter account called @earlybird where we partner with other companies to provide users with a special, short-term deal. For example, we partnered with Virgin America for a special day of fares on that were only accessible through the link in the @earlybird tweet.


What's next for Twitter?

We continue to focus on building a product that provides value for users. 

We're building Twitter, Inc into a successful, revenue-generating company that attracts world-class talent with an inspiring culture and attitude towards doing business.


Marissa Mayer

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