The week in technology: Google sounds off

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Although rumours of a calendar service have gone into overdrive in the past fortnight, Google instead launched a music search service this week, which links to reviews, CDs and cover art and provides links to buy albums or songs.

Google already has a similar service for films, which is activated by typing in a title plus the word “movie”. It also shows listing times - if you type in a city name - and a handy Rotten Tomatoes-style review aggregation (though like Rotten Tomatoes, almost all reviews are from the US).

There is a dedicated music search page but Google is hoping to catch music-related queries made through the normal Google search method. Of course, it doesn’t work for all artists. Announcing the feature on the Official Google Blog, David Alpert said the new feature “mostly works for artists popular in the US and a more limited number of artists from other countries”, but would be expanded.

It was the links to music retailers that proved most controversial. Google won’t get a cut of sales resulting from its links to music retailers, but will sell advertisements around the search results in the usual fashion.

One commentor on TechCrunch wondered how iTunes managed to always be the first store listed, and how eMusic got a “promotional blurb” included with its links. “It’s an interesting departure from Google’s usual model of having objective results primary, sponsored results off to one side,” wrote Rod Edwards. Google plans to expand the number of music retailers it links to.

Techdirt pointed out that the service also points to lyrics, despite Warner just last week shutting down a software programme, LyricSearch, that does exactly that.

“Google is late to the game with music search results—Ask Jeeves, MSN and Yahoo have all offered similar features for some time,” wrote Chris Sherman at Search Engine Watch.

Some commentators, such as Om Malik, were already happy with the results, while TechCrunch’s Michael Amington seemed more keen on MusicStrands, which “had results for every band I threw at it”.

Microsoft shakes up entertainment

Microsoft followed its autumn reshuffle with another shake-up at its digital media and entertainments division, charging executives who masterminded the Xbox with overseeing its “digital home” strategy and setting up a new unit to look after music and video.

Michael Gartenberg, on one of Jupiter Research’s analyst weblogs, described the move as “really big news”.

“While it could mean any number of things over time, the first take is Microsoft is finally getting serious about where it stands in the market with digital entertainment, especially music and video,” he said.

Robbie Bach, Microsoft’s Xbox guru who was promoted to head up the unit in September, made three appointments designed to tighten up its splintered organisation as it accelerates its push into digital media where the company is dragging its feet compared to rivals like Apple.

The reorganisation also comes ahead of the impending battle between Microsoft’s new Xbox 360 console and Sony’s Playstation 3 due out next year. Xbox losses have so far amounted to more than $4bn but the first generation of the console established itself as the Playstation’s closest competitor, and Microsoft is hoping the new Xbox will turn a profit.

Peter Moore, former head of games and publishing for the Xbox, is to assume Mr Bach’s former role of overall responsibity for all things Xbox.

J Allard, another Xbox executive, is also being promoted. He now has responsibility for the platform technology across the digital entertainment group, a key role as Microsoft tries to build a technological foundation for its broader digital home vision.

Mr Allard is famous for sending a memo a decade ago warning Bill Gates of the threat that the internet posed to Microsoft, helping to trigger a volte face in the company’s strategy.

Bryan Lee, who handled the finances of the Xbox business along with Microsoft’s other home and entertainments businesses, is now in charge of the new division comprising digital music, video and other entertainments.

Rafat Ali at paidcontent.org said the new unit would make Microsoft more nimble at striking entertainment deals.

“The other day just hearing the list of places within Microsoft where an MTV Urge deal could be done made my head ache. This may be as close to one-stop dealmaking as Microsoft can get with entertainment,” Ali added.

Wikipedia’s moment of truth

Wikipedia has come in for criticism since John Seigenthaler Sr, a longtime journalist, discovered an entry about himself which wrongly claimed he had been briefly linked to the asassinations of both John and Robert Kennedy. After Seigenthaler wrote a scathing editorial in USA Today, the ensuing scandal prompted prompted Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales to introduce some experimental changes to the site’s policies, mainly preventing anonymous users from creating new pages.

Just days after this blow to Wikipedia’s credibility, Nature magazine published the results of a pioneering experiment. It selected a number of scientific topics and asked experts on each to review that topic’s entry in both Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica, and summarise the errors they found.

Of 42 topics, the researchers found eight serious errors - evenly divided between the two ‘pedias. But when adding in “factual errors, omissions or misleading statements”, Wikipedia scored 162 compared to Britannica’s 123. The bulk of Wikipedia’s errors came from a few entries: “Dmitry Mendeleev”, “Acheulean industry” “neural network” and “prion” were the worst offenders.

Whether it was a victory or another blow for Wikipedia, however, depended on which headline you read.

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