May 26, 2009
Google: your guide to the 95% of the internet that is useless
pic by APC
During a protracted, sacred-cow-bashing bitch session the other day, a friend pointed out that Google is getting less and less useful for finding the things you want online. A generic search engine is fine if you have literally no idea where to find what you're looking for, but if you spend a lot of time looking for stuff online, it's often faster and easier to go to a site that pulls together information about a broad topic (like business news or movies or book reviews) and start searching there. Between a basic news aggregator like Yahoo News or Google News, the front page of the NY Times, Wikipedia, Amazon, IMDb, YouTube, Bartleby, and your social network of choice, you can find a lot what you're looking for on the internet without having to wade through a Google search that points to a lot of sites that aren't useful.
This is nuts, though, right? Google is supposed to be the easy-to-use guide that takes you where you want to go through the chaotic mess of the internet. Now it's the service that points you to one thousand robo-sites that reproduce the same inaccurate lyrics to Rihanna singles that every other robo-site offers, then tries to sell you a ringtone ("pictures, lyrics, pics, videos, photos, wallpapers, biography, news and much more!")
Useless content on the internet isn't Google's fault, but as a search engine, it has to get better at weeding out the garbage. This is where more specific sites like Facebook and Wikipedia come in. Sometimes the external links and references section at the end of Wikipedia entries is faster than a Google search to find some specific bit of information. And a lot of people would rather ask their group of friends for advice on a bar with a good jukebox or a book to bring on vacation instead of wading through 200 book blogs by PR account assistants.
One good thing about Google searches is that the first response you get is often a link to the Wikipedia entry (examples: Cyclops, "Maude", cadaver, philanthropy, Colorado River, quinoa, and Doug Henning.)
Lately there have been headlines like "Facebook Could Kill Google" because Facebook is getting users a lot faster than Google is, and because Facebook is now responsible for almost 20% of Google's traffic. And 45%(!) of people on the internet use Facebook as their homepage.
This week a Google product manager said that for many users, social networks are more trusted than an anonymous search engine because the results they get are better. If you want to know the capital of Tunisia, you'd use Google, but if you want to find out about restaurants, you go to Yelp or Facebook.
Maybe after the orgiastic explosion of new websites that happened over the last 7 or 8 years, the internet is starting to contract into a handful of sites that provide reliably useful information. When you're searching around blindly, you might want Google to show you a huge, sort of random list of sites related to what you're looking for. But as people start to get more comfortable with the internet and how it works, they won't want their searches to show them everything on it.
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