For a few years now, the Internet has been just insanely useful. Everything is there and you can find it when you need it. But Google is working less and less well, and I’ve spotted another potential crack in its foundations. Will we look back on this as the time when it all started to fall apart?
By the way, they’re on Twitter too; I have a canned search (via the lovely Mac Tweetie client) for a combination of “EU” and “Oracle” (guess why). This afternoon, the flag came up and an innocent-looking tweet took me to something called “redhotnews.com” that gets no links from me, where there was one paragraph from this Business Week story surrounded by seventeen (!) different AdSense ads.
The bottom line: There are a huge number of smart sleazy people thinking all day every day about how to game the Google ecosystem; content farms are just one of the newer manifestations. Google knows about this, obviously, and they’ve known about things like gaming sleazy affiliate programs for years; but the problem remains. At this point, it’s hardly relevant whether Google’s huge screaming conflict of interest is relevant here; it’s perfectly possible they’re making an honest effort but just losing.
My Own Problem · I’m having a very personal problem with Google; there are things on my blog, the publication you are now reading, that I can’t find. There will be times that I need to refer to some story that I just know is out there somewhere back in the last six ongoing years, but I can’t find it. Google still indexes every word here, near as I can tell, so if I know the exact phrase I’m looking for, I’ll do fine.
But sometime over the last few years, my ability to use Google to find things here has taken a qualitative turn for the worse. I know maybe too much about search technology; I’m assuming it’s just search-quality algorithms being tuned away from inclusiveness and toward fussiness, in the face of assault from all the bad people on the Internet.
Whatever; the effect is not subtle.
It’s the People, Stupid · I really hope that Google (or Microsoft, or Yahoo, or whoever) figures out which set of knobs on the sides of the big search engines to twist to get us back to where things were when they worked better. But until that happens, I can see one way forward that I don’t think can be gamed; we’ll just have to rely increasingly on people and their reputations.
If I can’t trust searching, retrospective or real-time, to let me know what’s going on in management APIs, I don’t care, because if I follow William Vambenepe, he’ll have the poop. If I want keen-eyed level-headed oversight on what’s up in games, the crew at Ars Technica are trustworthy. If I want partisan but fair and thorough coverage of US politics, Josh Marshall and the crew at Talking Points Memo. For tracking Vancouver civic issues, Frances Bula. And so on.
Yeah, it’d be nice if there were a way to mechanize away the need for trust, and for reliance on the small number of people you can scale up and listen to. But maybe the period of history during which that was possible was an anomaly which is drawing to an end.
The Internet is still really good at helping you find the right people to pay attention to, and scaling up to listen efficiently. Which is immensely better than nothing.