My work computer is my home computer is my work computer. But even if your work computer and your home computer aren’t the same one, maybe you use Facebook at work? Or you might order something online at lunch? Possibly you do a little work every once in a while over the weekend or during an evening? [Read more…]
Let me tell you a short story: Back in the 1980s there was a pseudo war, and it was a big deal at the time. Named the Cola Wars, it was a knock-down, drag-out to decide which of the two mega brands of cola was better, Coke or Pepsi. Both felt that neither could survive while the other lived, and you, the consumer, had to choose. Which did you like better? Side-by-side blind taste tests were done in supermarkets, on beaches, Main Streets and college campuses. It was the Duke-Carolina and the Yankees-Red Sox of marketing wars rolled into one. It was huge.
Then Coca-Cola, in a moment no consumer could figure out (and no company should ignore), decided they would ditch their cash cow and make a whole different product. “Old Coke” was gone overnight. “New Coke” was the Coke to beat Pepsi, and it was no contest: nobody liked it.
It was awful. New Coke tasted terrible and there were practically riots in the streets. People started hoarding “old” Coke when they could find it. If you weren’t around then (and I suspect most of the Google decision-makers weren’t) I know it’s hard to believe that consumers actually rose up and made such a stink that a mega company completely reversed course about something, but they did. In a matter of a few months, New Coke was gone and “Coke Classic” was resuscitated.
So now we’ve got the New Google and for professional searchers it tastes about as good as New Coke. Here’s the vanilla article from Lance Ulanoff at Mashable, announcing its birth: Google Merges Search and Google+ into Social Media Juggernaut. He says:
“Now we know Google’s master-plan for integrating Google+ ever more deeply into the Google ecosystem: Pour the whole thing into Google search. Starting today, Google+ members, and to a lesser extent others who are signed into Google, will be able to search against both the broader web and their own Google+ social graph. That’s right; Google+ circles, photos, posts and more will be integrated into search in ways other social platforms can only dream about.”
Short version: when you type a search into Google, what you’re going to get for your first results are everything you or your friends have ever written or shared publicly on Google Plus on anything related to the item you’ve just searched.
If you’re on your mobile device looking for a restaurant in San Francisco, you’re treated to a gold mine of your friends’ and acquaintances’ recommendations. Nice!
If you’re a professional 9-5 researcher like me using Google it’s another layer of non-relevant stuff to wade through before you get to what you need. We’re not “social” searchers, we use these tools to provide reliable answers to others. Relevant search is our job. And Google has always had the largest database of legitimate, relevant resources that professional researchers need and use every day.
THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN
Here’s a professional searcher’s take on it: Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land wrote an article in response to the flaws (and potential legal issues) he saw called Real-Life Examples of How Google’s ‘Search Plus’ Pushes Google Plus Over Relevancy.
Sullivan argues that besides making relevant search results harder to find for professional searchers, the potential trouble on Google’s horizon is legal: if they highlight information (mainly) from their own properties – including Google+ and YouTube they could be charged with abusing their power as a monopoly. Also, there’s that teeny little issue of privacy – what if something you thought you were posting privately to Google+ got shared without your permission publicly and then emerged as an answer to a search query?
FIXING WHAT’S NOW BROKEN
I’ve seen peoples’ comments saying “what’s the big deal, you can turn Search Plus off!” and yes you can, and here’s how.
And you can also turn Verbatim on, which forces Google to allow you to use your exact search terms instead of Google trying to correct them for you (in case you didn’t really mean what you meant). Here’s how: Do a search, go to the search options sidebar, click “show more search tools,” select “Verbatim” and Google will keep your search string like you wanted it to be.
And you can turn filtering off, too, so that your world on Google doesn’t keep getting narrower and narrower. And yes, it does. You don’t even know what you don’t know, but you will if you read this and watch Eli Pariser’s jaw-dropping TED Talk.
But all these turning offs and turning ons are a total hassle. Just to do one search in Google the way I used to just last year, I have to turn off two things and turn one on. Every. Single. Time. This is progress?
I’ve read other comments saying, “Google’s free and they can do whatever they want to with their product.” And that’s true, they can. I’d argue that Google is “free,” but whatever. We can vote with our feet. And Bing’s the next logical choice for database size.
Mat Honan at Gizmodo has this to say: Google just made Bing the Best Search Engine.
Trouble is, Microsoft has always run hot and cold on search. They kindasorta want to compete with Google, but Bing’s not their core business and it’s never going to be. There’s no Coke vs. Pepsi thing going on here. It’s Coke vs. Shasta. Google’s still got the largest database lurking inside all that growing social stuff, and Bing just doesn’t. It’s big, but it’s not Google big.
Update: More on this from Wired magazine’s Tim Carmody: Dirty Little Secrets: The Trouble With Social Search.
The Washington Post ran an article on Jan 30th by Michael Rosenwald highlighting the increasing amount of spam on Google. Spammers have figured out a way to cheat the Google system and are now bringing it direct to you and me. It’s clogging up the works and many are starting to worry that Google isn’t taking the issue seriously enough.
How the spammers do it
1. Content farms – businesses created specifically to generate cheap and filling answers to popular search strings – are increasingly padding out the results.
According to Rosenwald, websites like eHow hire freelancers to write how-to articles on a wide variety of topics. The sites work hard to optimize the page content so that they get pushed to the top of search results, and because we trust Google’s algorithms to give us good hits, we click the link. And when we click the link, we’ve reinforced to Google that that link is what we’re looking for – Google ranks web pages in part based on how many click-throughs it gets. Once we actually see the page, we realize it’s crap, but now we’re there, we’ve committed. We’ve clicked. Crap.
2. Nickel-a-clickers – People that are paid to click links to bring a web page higher in the rankings.
Through employment matchup services like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, spammers hire cheap labor to click on links in order to make their site seem more relevant. Every time the clickers click they get five cents, or whatever the agreed-on rate is. In order to earn a decent return, they have to click a lot of hotlinks. I can’t imagine the boredom that entails, but I suppose it’s pretty easy work.
I’d never heard of Mechanical Turk, so I thought I’d have a look-see. One of the jobs on offer: “CopyEditing and Logically Filling up of Blanks for Recipe Database.” Job description: “Check for grammer errors.” Oh good. Final comment on the job from the employer: “It doesn’t have to be factually correct. As long as the details seems plausible and logical it is fine.” Well, there’s another reason for sticking with reliable ol’ Epicurious.
Big deal, there’s more spam in Google results. Whatever.
You might say that now, but if spammers are enlisting armies of cheap labor to scam the system, Google’s in big trouble. Because if we all get fed up, there are several other big engines ready and waiting for the influx of search émigrés. And Google will be another name like Netscape or Northern Light that you think “Oh yeah! I used to use that all the time!”
And it means trouble for us, too, because some of the pages you click through to are going have more and more distasteful things on them. And like bedbugs they could start creeping onto your hard drive and lurk there.
Lurking things? Eww. Are there options?
Alternatives to Google include Bing, Blekko, and Exalead, just to name a few. Here at HBG, we check more than one search engine for every search we do and you might want to consider making it a habit too, if you aren’t already.
Here’s another reason why you might want to use more than one engine: studies in recent years by researchers at Penn State, the University of Kashmir, metasearch engine Dogpile and others have shown repeatedly that information overlap between search engines is very low, sometimes as little as 1% in the first page of returned results. You get a stronger variety of results if you cast your net wider.
[An interesting sidenote here: search guru Danny Sullivan posted an article on the Search Engine Land website yesterday titled “Google: Bing Is Cheating, Copying Our Search Results.” Apparently Google set up a sting operation recently to prove that Bing has been lurking over their shoulders and copying search results. Sullivan’s article has pictorial evidence and everything. Will Bing just clone Google’s results, spam and all? I sure hope not.]
And finally, consider this: when you search Google or any search engine, you’re looking at a static database of web pages that were scanned in days, weeks or perhaps even months ago. Which is why sometimes when you click a link you won’t find the word you were looking for. The page was updated in the interim between when it was saved in the search engine’s database and when you clicked the link. One search engine may have cataloged a site yesterday and another last month. Or last year. For freshness, reliability and completeness, it just pays to use more than one search engine.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love Google. But this spam thing is starting to bug me. Are you concerned? Or is this much ado about nothing?