“Search War” is heating up

Happy new year!

If I tell you that search is crucial for using the web and indeed the web’s growth and future, you’ll probably shrug and ask what’s new. Indeed, web search is almost becoming like our sixth sense and we rarely give it much thought. Looking for something? just search for it, or, Google it.

Fun fact: Google doesn’t want people to use their company name as a verb meaning search because they’re afraid that that verb will become detached from the company itself and that people will think of googling as the act of search irrespective of how that is done. That is, they are afraid that you’ll start googling on Yahoo or Bing :-). Case in point, they don’t want “google” to become like “xerox” or “kleenex”. More on genericized trademarks.

Last year, Microsoft introduced their new search engine, Bing, which is the first possible serious contender to Google… ever! This actually turned out to be good for us consumers; both search engines have started rolling out new features quickly. Competition is good. I think I can safely say that the state of web search is much better now in the beginning of 2010 than what it was in the beginning of 2009.

The marketing campaigns of both engines are perhaps a prime indicator of the heated competition. Google rarely advertise their products. Not only that, but Google Search was actually never advertised (afaik)! Imagine that, the most used web service on Earth was never advertised! Bing as the newcomer has been running commercials on the web and TV. Recently, Google started advertising their web search. I think this is quite shocking. I think everyone who has ever used the Internet knows about Google search, yet they are starting to advertise now. I first saw their ads on Hulu, and now I am encountering them in other places.

If you’re interested, here’s Google’s search campaign and here’s Bing’s search campaign.

Remembering Gaza

A year ago to this date, a brutal Israeli offensive on Gaza took place. This tiny strip of land had been besieged for many months already and its people were already denied the very basic amenities of life. Yet, a year ago Israel launched a brutal and bloody attack on Gaza that killed at least 1400 people. This savage attack did not distinguish between civilians and militants, and people generally agree that the Israeli response to the termination of the cease fire was at least disproportionate.

The Israeli-given reason for this attack was to fend off the Hamas make-shift rockets that were fired onto southern Israel, which have escalated after the end of the cease-fire. However, this is hardly the case. The Hamas rockets are very primitive and make-shift. They are literally composed of gun powder in pipes that fly. Thus there was no infrastructure for Israel to take out. Plus, the Israeli attack did not stop the Hamas mortars even after it finished.

Unfortunately, it seemed that this attack was little more than a political move to help a candidate win an election. At the start of the offensive, the ruling Israeli party (Kadima) headed by Tzipi Livni were losing in the primary polls against pro-war hardliners and right-wingerssuch as Benjamin Netanyahu. This full-scale attack (without the interference of George Bush in has days in office) boosted Livni’s poll numbers and made the elections closer. Unfortunately, besides the large Palestinian death toll, this was the only outcome of this campaign on the Israeli side.

The Israeli attack didn’t distinguish between militants and civilians, and very little was done to minimize civilian casualties. Israel continued to justify that their mass bombing was because Hamas militants were hiding behind women and children. However, it seemed like Israel was using that as a ready excuse to justify anything (and little proof of that was provided in many cases). For example, Israel bombed a U.N. school that was temporarily housing refugee families which resulted in killing at least 40 people all of which were civilians. Israel also ignored international conventions and weapons that were banned internationally to be used against civilians. For example, white phosphorus was used in civilian locations which is banned internationally. To make matters worse, Israel prevented international news reporters from entering Gaza so as to limit the amount of information getting out.

As I mentioned before, much has been said about this offensive. A U.N. fact-finding investigation of this conflict (what is sometimes called the “Goldstone Report”) concluded that both Hamas and Israel were to blame for the conflict, and concluded that Israel committed war crimes and and possible crimes against humanities.

I personally do not agree or support Hamas, and I have stated that on multiple occasions. However, regardless of your political views you have to acknowledge that what Israel did in killing more than 1400 people, at least 1000 of whom were unarmed civilians, and at least 300 were children was extremely wrong and inhumane. Today, Israel is still denying basic amenities and even cement from entering Gaza to rebuild the destroyed homes.

On this day, it is worth giving a moment to think and reflect.

Unexpected Religiousness

I have to admit; I am rather surprised by how many of my international colleagues are religious.

In the middle east religion dominates and dictates many aspects of our lives. This does not imply that people adhere to it strictly, but it is usually the scale by which almost everything is measured. Religion is so tightly integrated into middle eastern society that if you were to meet a random person in the middle east, it is most likely that you’ll find him/her to be a moderate pious person who believes in god.

Before I came to America to continue my education, I used to think that religion was not prominent in everyday American life. When I came here I realized that it was actually the opposite. The USA is probably the most religious of all industrial nations. American elections are a great proof of that.

So why am I surprised now? Well, I study in a very technical graduate program in a very liberal campus in a very liberal state. I knew there are a few religious communities on-campus (there are a few of us Muslims, and some number of other denominations), but I used to think that most people in my department were not particularly religious. Now in this Jewish and Christian holidays season I found out that a good chunk of my friends and some professors attend the various masses and prayer ceremonies. I think everybody seeks to find spiritual and inner peace regardless of what they do or where they come from.

Anyway, in that spirit, happy holidays to everybody. Hopefully the beginning of this year will be better than the beginning of last year.