Is Google Making Search Obsolete?

They’ve caused search to evolve a lot – far beyond what anyone expected – but the real answer is a lot lengthier.

When Larry Page returned to the helm of Google in April, 2011, one of the first things he did was appoint Alan Eustace Senior VP of Knowledge. That occurred simultaneously with the renaming of the Search Group to the Knowledge Group. Formerly the Senior VP of Engineering and Research, Eustace was a prime candidate to ramrod the new focus… to become a Knowledge Engine.

Google’s Base and Knols project apparently didn’t go the direction they hoped. Participation may have been less than sufficient to make it worth pursuing or perhaps a wiki-style project that was neither moderated nor edited just generated too much garbage material. I’d guess both.

Regardless, Knol was discontinued in May of last year, and a new endeavor, Annotum, took over where it left off. Annotum, though, is peer reviewed, and as such, should produce better quality. In addition, it can be run from within any WordPress site, either .com or .org, making it more easily accessible to the masses. Adoption should be better, as a result.

The main point is, though, Google hasn’t binned its notion of tying together all entities with relationships. In fact, I think nearly every one of Google’s properties was either born as a means of furthering progress to that goal, or has been adapted to maximize its contribution.

This has had the effect of transforming Google from a search engine to a data harvesting engine.

And a voracious one at that.

How does this affect you?

There was a time when I heard a lot of people say that they made it a point to log out of Google except when they absolutely needed to be logged in, so that their actions wouldn’t be tracked. Good luck doing that now, Sunshine! I have doubts that most people that think they’re logged out really are “off the Google grid”.

Which brings me to the point of this piece: Search. Or more succinctly, the lack of it.

Search, the old fashioned way“Search” implies looking through an index to find what the searcher is looking for. Unfortunately, Google stopped doing that for us a long time ago. Now, if you search for furniture, Google will show you what sort of furniture the people in your Circles have +1’d, the furniture polish post on the blog of someone that you once interacted with on G+ or in some comment thread and a list of furniture stores and reupholsterers in a 50 mile radius of your location.

If you were looking for some reference to different styles of furniture, you’re going to have get a lot more creative, plus maybe go through an anonymous proxy. Even then, you’re likely to find a few items on the 1st page of the SERPs that only relate to your search in a very loose fashion.

What’s the Solution to the Corrupted SERPs?

Google’s Amit Singhal recently said “Search is dramatically changing right before our eyes.”

I agree. And to a great degree, I like the change. I find it exciting that we’re gradually getting closer and closer to the Semantic Web. Once that’s achieved, the availability of usable data will explode in ways that make the internet as we know it today seem like a child’s toy.

But we’re not there yet. We’re still mired in the necessity to be able to search. And Google, in its corporate fervor to progress, has figuratively pushed us out onto a bridge that hasn’t been built yet.

Corrupted is the best way to describe the SERPs. In Google’s determined effort to show us what they think we want to see, they are studiously ignoring what we are specifically telling them to show us! Sorry, but that’s not search, folks. Sometimes we just want to find what we’re looking for – not what someone else wishes we would like to find.

Until Google will provide us with a single click, 100% opt out, that removes any influence by acquaintances, past site visits, stated interests, +1s or Likes, the only way we’ll get a search is by consulting a true search engine… one that isn’t based in Mountain View.

I fully understand why Google wants to track our interests and interactions. Delivering highly targeted ads is their bread and butter. They need to get paid for their considerable investments in search technology – fair enough.

I just think they need to honor the fact that we’ve paid them (hundreds of?) billions of dollars to be a search engine. If they can’t or won’t do that anymore, then they should make that clear, so we can stop expecting it from them. And stop paying them to do it.

When I look for a specific piece of information, I don’t give a damn what my buddy Bill thinks about it, what his girlfriend Maybelline has to say about it or what site’s I’ve previously visited in a similar niche.

None of that does a thing to satisfy my immediate need for information! Just stop trying to read my mind and start listening! Isn’t that what your precious user experience is all about, Google? Giving the users what they want to see?

Here’s a Penalty for You, Google:

If I were to apply logic similar to what Google uses to judge showing users something different from what they asked for, I’d be hard pressed to come up with a better way to describe their actions than spammy.

Does that seem a little harsh, Larry? You and your crew are pretending to be something you’re not. I call that that cloaking!

You don’t think this hurts the quality of your search results? My answer to that would be “WHAT search results?”

… although your present algorithms are bringing you closer to your goal, they’re taking you further away from your user base.

I suggest you either recapture the company’s focus as a search engine (which I know is unlikely, given your stated direction) or provide a means for users to remove all the crap signals that are corrupting your results and see a true search result.

Because although your present algorithms are bringing you closer to your goal, they’re taking you further away from your user base. And without that user base, you’ll find it difficult to keep selling ads.

A lot of people wish that some search engine – ANY search engine  – would bring some serious competition to the contest… enough to make Google less manipulative and more user-oriented. In my opinion, it’s unlikely that Bing or Yahoo will ever become that. Yandex, on the other hand  is positioning itself very nicely for a major foray into the western English speaking world.

For my part, I’m anxious to see it happen. I think competition’s healthy, and Google hasn’t had any for far too long. I already know Yandex’s tools are better. And some searches I’ve run with them have been significantly better quality, although I want to check out their reach a bit more.

I’ve given up on being able to see a true search result on Google. I’m on the prowl for a search engine that’s willing to deliver what’s asked for.