Now that Marissa Mayer has been moved from search to local, Udi Manber is Google’s search boss.
Google search is the world’s most lucrative technology product, so this promotion makes Manber a pretty big deal at Google and in Silicon Valley.
Who is Manber?
He’s an Israeli brainiac with over 20 years of experience in the world of search. He’s been at Google for four years.
“His appointment is a change for the better,” an anonymous ex-colleague told Ynetnews, adding, “Mayer wanted the search interface to stay minimalistic, but with the competition from Facebook and Microsoft’s Bing it’s impossible to keep the same interface.”
Previous to Google he was in charge of A9.com, a search subsidiary from Amazon. When he left A9 for Google, the Seattle PI wrote, “Manber’s defection is the latest coup for Google, a formidable foe for many technology industry titans.”
At the time Google only had 46.3% of the search market. Today’s it’s around 65%.
In 2006, John Battelle called him “one of the leading lights in the search world, on nearly everyone’s ‘Top Brains in Search’ list.” Battelle also added this little anecdote about Manber, “Widely respected for his elegant approaches to intractable software problems, Manber was a magnet for Silicon Valley talent. (Either in jest or retaliation, Google responded by buying advertisements on its own search engine for the phrase “Udi Manber”; type his name into the search form and the top ad link offers job opportunities at Google.)”
Before his stint with A9, he was chief scientist at Yahoo. Before that he was professor at the University of Arizona. He’s also the author of many books and articles. Our favourite: “Introduction to Algorithms — A Creative Approach.”
While it’s hard to find a negative word about Manber on the web, he was once savaged in the comments on our site by Stone, one of our best commenters at the time: “Please keep in mind that Udi is no innovator. Udi *failed* at Amazon/A9. I wonder if he puts that on his resume? People that know Udi know that he needs to be reminded of his failings, always and often.” (Anonymous commenters are hardly gospel, but we just wanted to throw out one viewpoint that differs from Battelle and the Seattle Pi.)
Another potential black mark on his resume: It appears he was in charge of Knol, Google’s failed Wikipedia rival. (He wrote the Google blog post introducing Knol.)
But that’s all in the past now. Let’s look forward. Google is facing a tougher than ever challenge is search from Facebook and Bing. He spoke with BusinessWeek last year about social search and the competition.
Here’s some highlights:
- Search is about people: “That means for us to improve search, we have to figure out what is missing and why it is not perfect for people.”
- On social search: “Maybe I just don’t have enough friends. I find it’s about average. Sometimes I get good things, sometimes not so good.”
- On Google being too comfortable, not innovating: “There’s definitely a risk. We’re aware of that. My main job is to make sure it doesn’t happen. Sometimes it’s not a groove, it’s a hill. My worry is that we’re stuck on top of a hill, but it’s not the right hill. We’re not in a rut. We’re on some kind of a ridge. But that’s not good enough.”
In 2008, he was also asked about human-assisted search. Here’s his answer:
Search has always been about people. It’s not an abstract thing. It’s not a formula. It’s about getting people what they need. The art of ranking is one of taking lots of signals and putting them together. Signals from your friends are better signals, stronger signals. On the other hand, many searches are long-tail kinds of searches. If you’re looking for what movies to see tonight, your friend can probably give you the best information. If you’re looking for the address of the business, the Web as a whole can give you better information. If you’re looking for something obscure about anything, again the web can give you much better information. It depends on the type of search you do—and how to take all those signals and put them together.
And here’s five parting details on him:
- When Microsoft was looking at Yahoo, Udi’s name was mentioned as someone to lead.
- In 2008, he said Google’s internal search blows: “It’s not that good — I’m complaining about it.”
- He skipped a grade in high school, and was awesome at maths.
- Battelle described him as having, “an almost elfish grin and the merry intensity born of someone who clearly knows more than he’s allowed to tell.”
- He’s invested in CarWoo!, a car buying service, and RethinkDB, a database company.