Google strengthens Israel connection

New VP wants Google’s Israel R&D center to double its work force.

By NOA PARAG
October 20, 2010 22:49
GOOGLE’S R&D center in Israel

GOOGLE’S R&D center 311. (photo credit: Globes)

 
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All large Internet companies have been trying in recent months to fight back against Google Inc. in its core business areas, such as search engines.

For this purpose, they have made alliances, such as Facebook and Bing, the search engine of Microsoft Corporation, and between Microsoft and Yahoo Inc.

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Google monitors these collaborations, which do not appear to threaten its standing.

With a share of over 90 percent in the global Internet search market, Google is in a good position to take it easy while remembering that no one is immune.

“We are following the link-up between Microsoft and Facebook,” said Google VP engineering for web search Dr. Udi Manber in an interview by video conference from California.

The link-up will enable “likes” listed by Facebook members to appear on Bing. This allows Microsoft to present personal results and gain an edge over Google.

“We have similar things, which I cannot discuss, since we have not yet announced them,” said Manber, hinting that Google’s response will not be long in coming.



“Although one of the things I learned in academia is not to talk about things we haven’t done, I can say in general that as the number of signals increases during the search process, this is better. A search is more than one signal, and at Google, we know how to connect them all together. That’s the important thing about the Google algorithm.”

Manber, an Israeli by origin, has resided in the US for over 30 years. He is about to succeed Google VP for search products and user experience Marissa Mayer, one of the company’s most senior executives, who will now oversee location and local services.

When asked how he intends to handle the new job, Manber said, “I don‚t look like Marissa, and I’ll do the job differently from her. I am an engineer by training, and Google is based on engineering. The main thing is how engineering and users are integrated.”

“Manber has an important role in building the Israeli center, and played a big role in bringing me to Google,” said Google Israel R&D Center director Prof. Yossi Matias.

“Search is one of our core areas of activity in Israel, and we have scores of employees in Haifa and Tel Aviv engaged in it.”

Google Israel has 150 employees at its Haifa R&D Center, and Matias promises, “We’ll continue to grow.”

“Google’s R&D Center in Israel is committed to search efforts,” said Manber. “We’re very pleased by the work underway in Israel, so that if the number of people in the search group in Israel doubles, I’ll be very pleased.

They’re doing important work.”

Manber was born and raised in Kiryat Haim.

“I danced with a student band in Haifa, and I even played with Yehuda Poliker,” he said.

Manber obtained his B.Sc. from the Technion Israel Institute of Technology and his Ph.D. from the University of Washington. He has been working in the search field since teaching computer science at the University of Arizona in the late 1980s, and in the early 1990s, he developed and launched his own search engine.

Manber joined Google in 2006 as VP engineering.

“Until now, I was in one group that works on managing the product and another group that works on search. With my new appointment, these two groups will be consolidated and I will be responsible for the sector,” he said.

One of the places where Google hit a brick wall was Facebook because it cannot present full search results from the social network.

“It doesn’t hurt our search results,” said Manber. “Most of the content on Facebook is connected to users and their friends and is not necessarily general information. Most people look for information from throughout the world and not just from their friends and even without Facebook, we already offer suitable user content.”

At the same time, Manber added that the social domain is very important for Google and in particular the possibility that the user will do a more personal search and get results connected to him.

Cooperation between Facebook and Microsoft does not hurt Google, according to Manber.

“It is difficult to talk without being biased because I was one of the first who developed the search field at Yahoo and I know all the people there,” said Manber when asked about the connection between Micosoft and Yahoo. “Therefore, it was sad for me to hear that they decided to exit this topic. In the past, I tried to convince them to invest more efforts, and I suppose they will still do good things with Bing even if they are giving up on infrastructure based on search.”

Beyond this he repeated the accepted corporate mantras of senior executives in the US.

“More competitors is really better,” said Manber. “The fact that Yahoo left the field means less competition, to my regret. Bing is a competitor that does very good work and we are happy to compete with them.”

Manber rebuffed one of the charges that is heard against Google which is that the field of search engines has not changed over the years but has simply been improved.

“I don’t agree with that claim. The area has changed enormously over the past decade. The future for search is not just in one thing. There are no magic wands and it depends on the users’ queries.”

Manber added that 15-20% of the enquiries they receive each day are absolutely new.

“That means that our methods are so strong that we can help you with your queries even though we have never encountered them. We make hundreds of changes in the search engine each year, and alter the index every few seconds, but most people do not pay attention to this. We do experiments on users but that’s the way to get the best results. The real change is how to measure the improvement in the search and we have dozens of people just working on this. This is what allows us to improve the search engine.”

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