Source: Introducing SlashBI
For the third and final installment of my interview series with the people who make Google Search, I spoke with Johanna Wright, who leads the search project management team. She has worked on search at Google for over six years, leading the Universal Search and Google Instant projects.
In the first installment, I spoke with lead designer Jon Wiley about the design of Google Search. Last week, Google Fellow Ben Gomes explained how Google’s search technology works under the hood. Johanna tied it all together by explaining the most important feature of Google Search: its speed.
ReadWriteWeb: What does Google actually do to make search faster?
Johanna Wright: There are three ways I think of this. The first is the bits. How many bits do you send over the wire? How actually speedy is the results page? Does it load quickly, does it react quickly, and how quickly can we get it to you?
The second piece is actually taking fewer steps. This was the core innovation from Google in the earliest days: Getting the best results actually speeds you up. If you have to go to page two or try another query, that slows you down. Internally, we call this idea time-to-result. You may load up your page faster, but if you have to load two pages, then your total time to get your answer will slow down. So relevance is actually a core piece of speed.
The third is user experience. The simplicity of our UI also speeds you up.
RWW: What is Google’s institutional process for improving speed?
JW: Every quarter, we have latency goals to make the page faster. We also have a latency review of every feature we launch. We have to have a process and a methodology to make sure that everything that goes out the door is fast.
RWW: Why is speed such a priority? What are some of the effects of speed on search?
JW: We’ve done studies where we slowed down the search results page from 100 to 400 milliseconds, and what we saw was a decrease in the amount of search queries. When we slowed down, people searched less. We kept this experiment going, and over time, they searched even less. The first three weeks, people searched 0.4% less. The second three weeks, it was 0.75% less.
There was this fatigue. It’s barely perceptible in your own mind. You don’t know that this slowdown is what’s making you search less.
We kept our control group going, and when we undid this for the people in the experiment, we saw that they were still searching less by about 0.2%. So we were seeing this fatigue. The sluggishness slows you down, and it’s a lasting effect. So it has been baked into our processes [at Google] that we have to keep on making this thing fast.
RWW: As Ben Gomes and I talked about in our interview last week Google users get more demanding of search over time, giving it ever more complex questions as it gives them more complex answers. Is the same true of users’ expectations for speed?
JW: Absolutely. An Akamai study found that, in 2000, people were willing to wait for eight seconds for a page to load. In 2005, they were willing to wait five seconds. In 2009, still three years ago, they were willing to wait three seconds. So all of a sudden, the expectation is much higher.
RWW: How do newer features like auto-complete and Google Instant affect speed?
JW: So, we’re doing the prediction, and we’re giving you instant results. You can see that while you’re typing and then, almost unconsciously, you can just type a little more to get exactly what you want. It lets you get this feedback as you go along and get you the right results more quickly.
Auto-complete is an interesting speed story because it shows the conflict between our belief that just making the experience fast is important and that second component of speed, the time-to-result.
We had this auto-complete on Labs, and it was an awesome feature, and we knew we wanted to launch it. What we saw was a huge decrease in time-to-result. It was a great speed improvement.
So we went to Larry and Sergey and said, “Hey, we want to add this great feature to the Google homepage,” and Sergey said, “What? Really? This feels slow to me.”
We had these grueling product reviews at the time where Sergey opened the code, and he looked at the code in front of the team, and he pointed out four or five things that he thought we should be doing to speed up the code. A lot of these ideas were right, and we were sent back to the drawing board.
So we went back for about six weeks to speed this up before we could even launch it. I think that’s a real story for me about how speed is in the DNA of the company. The thing has to be fast in order for it to go out and for us to put our brand and our pride behind it.
RWW: So did those features produce a relatively big change in time-to-result compared to typical changes?
JW: Yes. They were big changes.
Next page: Ways Google Speeds Up Search Without You Noticing
Source: The RMS Tour Rider
Steve Jobs’ attention to the finest of details is well known throughout the tech world, the latest testament to that is Google VP Vic Gundotra’s recollection of his phone call with Jobs in 2008 about an imperfection in the Google logo on the iPhone when pinned to the homescreen.
Another example of Jobs’ immense attention to the finer aspects of product design and everything else is Apple’s patents, 313Â out of which list Jobs as an inventor.
These patents cover a broad range of products including Desktop Computers, iPods, iOS devices, product packaging, powerÂ adaptorsÂ and even the glass staircases you would find in Apple stores.
Microsoft’s Bill Gates has 9 patents to his name while Google’s Larry and Sergey have a dozen patents, which is nowhere near Steve’s 313.
Some of the filings date back to the 1980s, when Apple was a relatively young company, which was about to challenge the might of IBM, and in the future a lot of other companies as well. We have a look at some of Jobs’ most remarkable patent applications, some of which made their way into the consumer market while some stay buried inside Apple’s offices.
Jobs’ First Patent Filing – The Design For A Personal Computer
This patent covers the design of the Apple I, the company’s first product which was hand built by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, whichÂ soldÂ for $666.66 because Woz liked repeating digits. The patent claim reads “The ornamental design for a personal computer, substantially as shown”. To get an idea of how complicated the process of getting the Apple-I to work as compared to present day computers was, have a look at the Apple-I manualÂ (PDF link), which also features the earliest Apple logo with Newton sitting under an Apple tree.
This device, which was unshered in by the famous “1984″ commercial, was the first successful computer to feature a mouse and a graphical user interface. The patent however doesn’t say anything about the GUI, it instead talks about the all-in-one design of the computer which can be found even in today’s iMac models.
This patent was filed on behalf of NeXT Computer Inc., which later went on to merge with Apple. The patent, filed in 1991, describesÂ theÂ concept of a dock found in modern day operating systems like OS X and iOS. Although the idea of a dock may seem trivial right now, twenty years ago it wasn’t all that common. The patent has various flowcharts describing different tasks like launching applications, rearranging icons and adding new applications to the dock.
Steve Jobs’ desire forÂ perfectionÂ showed not just in software but even in accessory design. The iPad 2 smart cover, USB cables and power adapters are all examples of excellent design. (In some cases however the priority given to design makes the product more vulnerable to wear and tear, for example iPhone and iPod cables.)
Apple has multiple power adapter patents to its credit, each of which illustrate a different kind of design. The first patent filing showed a circular adapter, which later changed into a rectangular avatar and finally became the roundrect Magsafe adapters we all know of.
This was Jobs’ way ofÂ revolutionising the music industry. First a device, then a digital store both with a large number of users forced music companies to sell their songs for a dollar resulting in a win for customers. Steve’s name appears on 85 iPod patents, most of them dealing with the design of the product.
A number of patents filed in 2005 give us a glimpse into the iPhone’s birth stages. The patent applications nowhere explicitly mention the iPhone, but familiar UI elements like table views, battery indicators and page indicators make an appearance in the images. One of these filings also reveal that at one point of time Apple envisioned an iPod clickwheel style of phone as well.
iPhone UI And Hardware Design
Numerous iPhone patents have been filed by Apple since its launch, perhaps foreseeing that it would have to battle out other hardware manufacturers in the future. An interesting image found in one of these patents, embedded above shows a trial option in a mockup of the AppStore.
Like Apple’s products, its stores have beenÂ constantÂ subjects of admiration. Turns out the glass staircases found in many Apple Stores has also been patented, with one of its inventors being Jobs himself.
Jobs has been named an inventor in more than 300 other patents pertaining to iPod headsets, packaging, laptops, displays and keyboards. While products like the “Clickwheel phone” didn’t hit the shelves, many of these inventions were and still are critical to Apple’s success. As New York Times points out,Â Jonathan Ive, Apple’s design guru, shares more than 200 patents with Jobs hinting that Steve and Ive share the same designÂ instincts.
The New York Times has a nice interactive feature on Steve’s patents, hit the source link to have a look at it.
In what has to be somewhat embarrassing for Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is the most followed user on Google+, according to the Google+ Statistics counter.
The Facebook CEO has 21,213 followers, compared to the Google CEO at 14,798, Google social czar Vic Gundotra at 13,783, Google co-founder Sergey Brin at 11,629, blogger Robert Scoble at 11,389, Google spam avenger Matt Cutts at 9,153, TWIT founder Leo Laporte at 7,566, Google’s Bradley Horowitz at 7,187, TechCrunch’s MG Siegler at 6,579 and blogger Gina Trapani at 5,649.
Google+ Statistics creator Boris Veldhuijen van Zanten explains the CEO’s unlikely popularity thus, “He has the most friends in the world, they made a movie about him, and he is more handsome than the Larry and Sergey.” I think the answer goes more like this; The more media coverage someone receives related to Google+, the more followers they get, hence MG Siegler at #9.
I’m at #104. Discuss.