Flaws in the System

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ie-developer-toobar-webpage One of the most difficult things in business, consulting, and analysis is the unforeseen flaw.  That tiny little gotcha that seems obvious in hindsight that just didn’t come up during months of preparation.

Sometimes, that flaw is the fault of the system.  Sometimes, that flaw is the fault of the people involved in the system.  And sometimes, that flaw is just the result of the way the world works and the quirky way people and things behave within it.

In the case of Microsoft’s SearchPerks gimmick, I’m inclined to thing that the first one is probably the case here, though the second and third have some involvement as well.

For those of you not familiar with Microsoft SearchPerks, it is a basic rewards system setup to convince computer users to install a Microsoft toolbar that records the searches you make both with Microsoft’s Live search engine, and other search engines as well.  (I haven’t looked into whether it also pays attention to what you do in other browsers, or only IE.)  For each search you perform at live.com, you get one point.  You can redeem the points in 2009 for prizes.

The flaw that I believe may be skewing all of that data that Microsoft is collecting is fluff searches.  That is, searches that are not real searches, or are deliberate softball searches so that the user’s counter increases without the pain of actually having to use an inferior search engine.

For example, this morning, I was reading an article about being a web developer which listed several tools for Firefox, and one for Microsoft IE that are particularly useful for web developers.  Being something of a web developer myself (though not as my main occupation) I was interested in the two I hadn’t tried yet.  One of those tools was the Internet Explorer Developer Toolbar. 

Figuring that the IE Developer Toolbar was for IE, I switched from Firefox, which is my main web browser, and opened up IE.  My IE homepage is set to Live Search primarily to remind me to do live.com searches in order to boost my points. Having been so reminded, I typed “Internet Explorer Developer Toolbar” into the search filed and hit enter. 

The point?  I had already copied the full URL from my Firefox browser when the link I followed opened up the page.  So, I didn’t need that search.  Furthermore, that search is the exact wording of the toolbar in question because I already knew all about it.  In other words, whatever data Microsoft got off of that search was completely worthless.  This is often a problem with incentivized programs like this one.

What Microsoft really needed data from was the search I had done earlier in which I searched for “browser web developer tools” and restricted the results to the past 3 months.  Then, they would know both what I was actually looking for, and how well they did at fulfilling my request.  Alas, they will probably never know.

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