Details, please


At a PARC Forum a few years ago, I heard Marissa Mayer mention the work they did at Google to pick just the right shade of blue for link anchors to maximize click-through rates. It was an interesting, if somewhat bizarre, finding that shed more light on Google’s cognitive processes than on human ones. I suppose this stuff only really matters when you’re operating at Google scale, but normally the effect, even if statistically-significant, is practically meaningless. But I digress.

I am writing a paper in which I would like to cite this work. Where do I find it? I tried a few obvious searches in the ACM DL and found nothing. I searched in Google Scholar, and I believe I found a book chapter that cited a Guardian article from 2009, which mentioned this work. But that was last night, and today I cannot re-find that book chapter, either by searching or by examining my browsing history. The Guardian article is still open in a tab, so I am pretty sure I didn’t dream up the episode, but it is somewhat disconcerting that I cannot retrace my steps.

I then resorted to tweeting out the question. So far, it’s been re-tweeted twice, but nobody has responded with any clues to follow up.

I feel like that proverbial programmer:

Once there was a programmer who had a problem that he thought he could solve with recursion. Now he had two problems.

Not only am no closer to discovering a suitably-documented description of Google’s experiments, but also I am at a loss about why I cannot re-find that book chapter.


  1. I always appreciate your concrete examples of search and re-finding problems! On the chance that you’re still thinking about this, here’s a thought.

    Searching on this quote from the article “Google Mail uses a very slightly different blue for links than the main search page” yields two interesting results:

    Page 33 of Digital Wars by Charles Arthur has about 2 pages about arts vs. engineering culture and names the people involved:

    Possibly not what you’re looking for, but the additional details might help re-finding.

    Probably less relevant to your query:
    “The Ethical Implications of A/B and Multivariate E-Commerce Optimization Testing” by J.J Sylvia IV quotes the paragraph and gives a citation to a 1990 “detailed critical review of empirical research on the affects of color”. page 94 of Ethical Issues in E-business: Models and Frameworks edited by Daniel E. Palmer.
    Still, I’m glad to know that the ethics of “optimizing” are being considered!

  2. Thanks Jodi. The first one is the one I couldn’t re-find.

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