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How Amazon and Google are collaborating to ruin search results

(TECHNOLOGY) Google remains the primary search tool in the market, and they’re complicit in allowing Amazon to dominate the search results.

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If you’ve tried looking up products in which you’re interested lately, you’ve probably noticed that the majority of the top search results come from Amazon. While this isn’t terribly surprising given Amazon’s status as the largest online retailer in the United States, Monji Dolon has come to a startling realization regarding the phenomenon – and it’s something to which everyone should start paying attention.

Dolon, CEO and cofounder of Measured (a “consumer health startup”) posits that Amazon has had a profound (and negative) effect on the process of researching products. What’s worse is that Google, once a shining paradigm of search excellence, seems to be in on the joke.

In his experience of searching for bicycles under $500, Dolon ran into a seemingly innocuous article comparing ten different bikes. These kinds of articles (usually framed as “Top Ten [Product] Under [Price]”) are ubiquitous in consumer search results, and they offer what appears to be a variety of options. Knowing this, Dolon selected the article for further reading.

At this point, Dolon observed two key problems.

Firstly, the website on which the bicycle comparison appeared was an architecture publication. “Why, pray tell, are they reviewing bicycles? Your guess is as good as mine,” Dolon says, expressing the kind of incredulity that should accompany this kind of dissonance.

But secondly, and more to the point, Dolon noticed that the bikes listed in the article were all linked to Amazon’s inventory using affiliate links, meaning that the website receives a small commission each time a consumer uses one of the links to complete a purchase.

“[The use of affiliate links] goes quite well with the dozen or so ads plastered across the site (some of which are autoplaying videos with sound),” says Dolon.

As far as unbiased, complete research goes, the bicycle article itself fails on all fronts – and it isn’t the only one. Dolon reports that “of the results shown on the first page for ‘best bicycles under $500,’ I found that 8 out of 10 websites only list products found on Amazon using affiliate links.”

“Amazon has a limited selection of bikes in their catalog and many of the more reputable brands are completely left out of these review sites,” he adds. With Google bringing up such a myopic list of results for what should be a widely varying search query, Dolon’s premise – that Amazon and Google are collaborating to ruin the free research process – seems fair.

It isn’t fair to hold Google as accountable as Amazon, though. As culpable as the Alphabet search engine may be, Dolon notes that Amazon is still present in other search engine results for the same request – if not quite as egregiously so.

“[I]f you’re curious how DuckDuckGo compares, the results were (arguably) slightly better,” he reports. “While the first result is still an Amazon affiliate review site, I did see some of the other, bigger brands mentioned on other results.”

Amazon is clearly a convenient service, one which heavily influences product results simply by virtue of ease of use – and that’s a bigger problem than Google can be held responsible for.

For example, my recent search for highly rated woks yielded a New York Magazine comparison article on which the vast majority of recommended products are – you guessed it – available on Amazon. While the article in question offers actionable advice and does not appear to incorporate affiliate links, it still serves the purpose of largely confining one’s possible purchases to Amazon without considering much in the way of alternative solutions.

In academia, the key principle in any effective research is variety. If one is unable to retrieve comparable information from different sources, the credibility of one’s research suffers.

Unfortunately, this principle also extends to consumer research – and with Google and Amazon doing their respective best to become monopolies in their fields, any collaboration between the two is worrisome, not to mention counterproductive to organic, rich, varied research results.

As we continue to compare and contrast the products we consume, it may be time to ditch the first couple of pages of search results in favor of finding less-biased, less-Amazon-prone products. The alternative, Dolon fears, is an environment in which consumers oscillate between Google and Amazon with no true variety elsewhere.

Google once put great efforts into punishing site scraping and rewards originators of content, and millions of other algorithm updates have proven their ability to evolve – their search product could easily devalue “articles” featuring numerous Amazon affiliate links. But they won’t.

“Google, like many of the other tech giants, benefits from an uninformed user base,” he warns.

Real Estate Technology

Your office could benefit from a more open floor plan

(TECHNOLOGY NEWS) Science proves that open floor plans are more conducive to office productivity, but will it work for everyone?

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If you walk into a tech startup, nine times out of ten you’ll find an open seating/bull-pen style seating. Whereas traditional work environments are divided up into departments with individual offices and cubicles, open office floor plans put all employees in the same room. Studies have shown that cubicles don’t increase productivity. As a matter of fact, people are more productive when they are sitting close together, but can see each other.

Pros of openness

Some of the advantages of an open office floor plan are obvious. These kinds of offices are economical because you can fit more people and more desks in less space, and because it is more efficient to heat, cool, and light one large room than several small rooms.

Open office plans also facilitate communication between managers and their employees, and between departments.

Rather than taking the stairs or hiking down the hall to collaborate with another person, you can simply holler across the room.

Cons of openness

Unfortunately, all of that hollering can sometimes be pretty distracting. A University of Sydney study found that half of workers in open offices say that the most frustrating part of their workplace is the “lack of sound privacy.”

Open offices are not only noisy, but are also less secure, since everyone can overhear one another.

Employees may get peeved if they can’t concentrate because of all the noise around them, or can’t make a phone call without being overheard.

Dr. Who inspired solution

A startup called Framery Acoustics offers a solution.

They create soundproof phone booths and meeting pods designed to complement open office floor plans.

One of the founders, who previously worked in an open office, complained that his boss talked too loudly on his cellphone. His boss replied, “Well, get me a phone booth.” Thus, Framery Acoustics was born.

Simple solutions

Framery Acoustics is just one company that offers a product suited to appease open office dissenters. Framery Acoustics isn’t ready to give up on openness and neither should you. So, when it comes time to return to your office (if you haven’t already), look for ways to make your office more flexible. Whether it is by providing a quiet capsule for private meetings and phone calls or just having a designated section for meeting, the solution is out there.

Compromising allows you to reap the benefits of an open office plan, while still ensuring that you and your officemates have privacy and quiet when it is needed.

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Real Estate Technology

3D printed homes are now gaining traction outside of the US and China

(TECHNOLOGY) Other countries are now using 3d printing to build homes to underscore their infrastructure. This shows the viability of the technology!

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Recently, we reported that Lennar was using 3D printing to build homes in Austin. In 2014, the BBC reported that China was printing up to 10 homes a day at the low cost of $5000 per home. This trend is making strides in the real estate market, even though there’s still a long way to go. In a move that should give the industry confidence in 3D printing, Indonesia’s Public Works and Public Housing (PUPR) Ministry announced that they are using concrete 3D printing to build homes in rural areas. Eventually, plans are in the works to construct schools.

Using 3D printing to build an infrastructure

Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country. As with most countries, housing expenses are climbing in both urban and rural areas. According to Habitat for Humanity, 11.3% of the population lives below the poverty line. For comparison, in September, the U.S. Census Bureau released information that the U.S poverty rate increased to 11.4%, one percentage point over the same time in 2020. Affordable housing is a problem in Indonesia.

“This technology really helps us, so we can build faster, more accurately, and with precision,’ explains Kusumastuti, Indonesia’s Director General of Human Settlements.” The PUPR reports that 3D printing reduces waste and improves construction quality. Considering that up to 70% of housing is built by individuals, not private developers or the government, using 3D printing under the PUPR Ministry is an upgrade in a country that deals with many types of economic disasters, due to its climate.

3D printing’s potential for real estate

As 3D printing is used in more construction projects, not only in the U.S. and China, it’s hoped that the real estate industry embraces the technology. Indonesia isn’t the only country that is trying out 3D printing. 14Trees constructed a school in Malawi using this method already, with the project taking around 18 hours. The company is undertaking more projects in Africa using this technology and more companies are building houses using 3D printing in the United States. It will be exciting to watch how this plays out in the various markets.

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Real Estate Technology

Why everyone and their mother own spy machines (aka smart speakers)

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Regardless of privacy issues with them, what does information about smart speakers, ownership, and usage tell us about future trends?

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I don’t trust smart speakers, but even I can (begrudgingly) admit why they might be convenient. With just a simple wake word, I would be able to do anything from inquire about the weather or turn down my own music from across the room. And the thing is, plenty of people have bought into this sort of sales pitch. In fact, the worldwide revenue of smart speakers more than doubled between 2017 and 2018. And it’s projected that by 2022, the total revenue from smart speakers will reach almost $30 billion.

With over 25% of adults in the United States owning at least one smart speaker, it’s worth figuring out how we’re using this new tech…and how it could be used against us.

First things first: Despite the horror stories we hear about voice-command shopping – like when a pet parrot figured out how to make purchases on Alexa – people aren’t really using their smart speakers to buy things. In fact, in the list of top ten uses for a smart speaker, making a purchase is at the bottom.

Before you breathe a sigh of relief, though, it’s worth knowing where advertisements might crop up in more subtle places.

Sure, people aren’t using their smart speakers to make many purchases, but they’re still using the speakers for other things – primarily asking questions and getting updates on things like weather and traffic. And I get it, why scroll through the internet looking for an answer that Alexa might be able to pull up for you instantly?

That said, it also provides marketers with a great opportunity to advertise to you in a way that feels conversational. Imagine asking about a wait time for a popular restaurant. If the wait is too long, it creates the perfect opportunity for Alexa to suggest UberEats as an alternative (promotion paid for by UberEats, of course).

Don’t get me wrong, this is already happening when you search Google on your phone or computer. Search for a tire company, for instance, and the competitors are sure to appear in your results. But as more and more consumers start turning their attention to smart speakers, it’s worth being aware that they won’t be the only ones.

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