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simon collis

musings of an omnivorous biped

Dishonesty, Dishonestly

Posted by Simon Collis on 2013/06/12
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It’s funny how all the disclosures about the NSA’s PRISM spying programme have mentioned specific things that companies don’t do, such as handing user content over to the US Government, but don’t mention what they were accused of: sending communications metadata in bulk. Read the disclaimers: Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook… they all say much the same thing.

Of course, it’s easy to deny something you’ve never been accused of in the first place. But also failing to deny the thing you were accused of – that looks suspicious.

Another reason to be more careful online. Personally, I use StartPage as my search engine because IxQuick that runs it is based in the EU, not subject to US law and doesn’t provide information to the US government.

Now it looks like more reasons to use other systems too.

How long will cloud services from Microsoft and others survive? I’m sure EU governments are already considering a move, and it’s likely they’ll impose the same standards on their providers. It’s not enough to close these services, but it doesn’t help.

These disclaimers though… thou canst not equivocate to heaven.

PS: apologies to My First Tooth for blatantly misquoting one of their song titles. I couldn’t find it on YouTube either, so here’s the video for “Past Broadcasts“:

On Search Engines

Posted by Simon Collis on 2012/01/12
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The search engine,when you think about it, is a pretty magical thing. Really, they are essentially full text searches of ultra-massive databases, serving mind-boggling numbers of queries every second.

And there are hundreds of them.

Google, of course, is the Big Daddy of them all, with 60% of the market. The impressively poorly named Bing has apparently overtaken Yahoo! for second place now. Which is a bit like a Honda Civic entering the Le Mans 24 hour and making its way up to second, simply because the competition keep running out of fuel. (Although the comparison feels a little unkind to Honda).

To be honest, Google’s recent integration of Google+ into its search doesn’t bother me. I don’t trust Google’s results, and haven’t for several years. For searching MSDN, for example, it does a very good job. And their record of reporting takedown notices to Chilling Effects is an excellent one.

The only problem is that Google is too intelligent a tool. When it comes to web search, I don’t really want to live in a bubble, surrounded by the familiar, mainly because I already have nearly all of the familiar bookmarked and backed up to Firefox Sync. What I do need is a search engine that doesn’t really care what I am looking for or why, and will just interpret the query the way I want it.

Of course, I remember way back in 1996, when WebCrawler was the big noise, and got unseated by the mighty Digital Equipment Corporation’s shiny new AltaVista (now, sadly, a Yahoo! front end, but I won’t go into the history of AltaVista right now). Lycos is still going, and for years I was a huge fan of Dogpile, but at the moment, my default search provider has become one that I’ve always – until recently – scorned:-

Ask Jeeves

Don’t laugh. It doesn’t have the reach of either Google or Bing, but that’s to my advantage – it has much less spam, better results, and I don’t have to think my way around Google’s algorithms to get the search results I actually want. With Google I frequently have to make two searches to find what I want – whereas with Jeeves it’s usually on the first page. (As an aside, I think Google’s integration of Google+ is great news… for Bing. It’ll erode the quality of Google’s results like nobody’s business.)

So… what the hell? Am I still living in 1996? Or am I just fed up with the “clever clever” search algorithms that actually just make Google and its ilk more and more distracting and irrelevant?