FOr experienced Internet users, the chronology of our era is divided into two eras: BG and AG – before and after Google. 1998 marks the dividing line. Before that, as the Web expanded exponentially, a group of “search engines” attempted to provide searchable indexes. The best of them was AltaVista, which was launched in 1995 and offered the first searchable full-text database on the web via a simple interface. It was the engine that most of my colleagues and I used until my fateful day in 1998 when a clearer web page appeared with a simple text box and nothing else but the name Google. And from the moment I first used it, there is no turning back.
why? Because Google used an original method to rank the importance of the results obtained by the query. It has effectively conducted automated peer review of websites. The more web pages linked to a particular site, the more relevant it is likely to be, and therefore it is given a higher rank. The algorithm, dubbed PageRank, that did this was the foundation upon which Google’s dominance of Internet search was built.
The reason Google swept everything before that was because its ranking system seemed objective: it just counted links and ranked them accordingly. It can be manipulated, of course, and a small industry of SEOs has developed to try and ensure that Google searches will rank their customers’ pages highly. But Google users can at least be confident that the company itself did not favor some results over others. There was no advertisement.
The company’s founders were adamant that favoring advertisers’ pages would undermine the integrity of their results. They wrote in 1998, “We expect ‘that advertising-funded search engines will be inherently biased towards advertisers and away from the needs of consumers … We believe that the issue of advertising causes enough mixed incentives that it is necessary to have a search engine that is transparent and in the academic realm.”‘”
quite. But then, after burning investor money for two years, the founders discovered in 2000 that lofty objectivity doesn’t pay rent, and so they turned to surveillance capitalists, monitoring their users for information about them that would be of interest to advertisers. Between then and the company’s initial public offering in 2004, Google’s revenue increased nearly 4,000%.
For a long time, the intrusion of advertising considerations did not seem to bother users much, although it did irritate competitors and regulators in the industry, particularly in the European Union (for which Google has paid billions of euros in fines). Despite this, its position as a dominant search engine in large parts of the world has remained stable ever since. This suggests that the company must be doing something right, if only because, unlike Facebook, native alternative search engines are readily available.
All of this makes the fuss about an internet blog by Dimitri Bretton, a software engineer at a company in San Francisco, interesting. Under the heading Google Search Is Dying, Brereton writes: “If you’ve tried searching for a recipe or reviewing a product recently, I don’t need to tell you that your Google search results have gone down the drain. You’ve already noticed that the first few non-ad results are SEO [search engine optimisation] Enhanced sites filled with affiliate links and ads.
He admits that Google still delivers good results for many other categories, “especially when it comes to factual information. You might think Google’s results are very useful to you, and have no idea what I’m talking about. What you don’t realize is that you’re self-censoring yourself from Searching through most of the things you’d like to search for. You already subconsciously know that Google won’t deliver a good result.”
This struck me as a bit condescending, although it sparked a chorus of approval on Reddit, Hacker News, and even a piece in The New Yorker. The general gist of the discussion was that only ignorant fools do a simple Google search rather than the complex formulas available to those who know what they’re doing.
Since I don’t have a dog in this fight (I Google quite a bit and DuckDuckGo most of the time), my hunch is that this is the online equivalent of a storm in a cup of tea. On occasions I use Google, it’s generally for real-world stuff and so my experience may differ from that of the Reddit and Hacker News audience. may be, like New Yorker It is suggested, that the results coming from Google are a reflection of how good the SEO audience is in the game’s PageRank system.
The CEO of DuckDuckGo (who has a dog in the fight, of course) offers three other possible reasons for dissatisfaction with Google. One is the reluctance of users to be tracked. Another reason is annoyance with the way Google prioritizes its products in search results related to purchase. And the third? Simply boredom: We’ve lived in AG for so long that people crave something different. If this is what really bothers them, they should remember that solutions are just a click away.
what you’ve been reading
Putin’s defiance of the American right is a great blast from Andrew Sullivan on his blog.
Pride before falling
Peter Savodnik’s great essay The Dawn of Uncivilization deals with Western (and especially American) arrogance after 1989.
Cause I lost
In preparing for defeat, Francis Fukuyama (on American purpose Blog) Why he thinks Vladimir Putin will lose.