Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Google’s Declining Search Results

Charlie Warzel, the Atlantic:

There’s a strange irony to all of this. For years, researchers, technologists, politicians, and journalists have agonized and cautioned against the wildness of the internet and its penchant for amplifying conspiracy theories, divisive subject matter, and flat-out false information. Many people, myself included, have argued for platforms to surface quality, authoritative information above all else, even at the expense of profit. And it’s possible that Google has, in some sense, listened (albeit after far too much inaction) and, maybe, partly succeeded in showing higher-quality results in a number of contentious categories. But instead of ushering in an era of perfect information, the changes might be behind the complainers’ sense that Google Search has stopped delivering interesting results. In theory, we crave authoritative information, but authoritative information can be dry and boring. It reads more like a government form or a textbook than a novel. The internet that many people know and love is the opposite — it is messy, chaotic, unpredictable. It is exhausting, unending, and always a little bit dangerous. It is profoundly human.

I am not sure this is the right conclusion to draw from the sometimes questionable results of a Google search these days. As has been repeatedly documented by others, the problem with Google is not that it is surfacing boring results, but that search engine spammers and machine-generated results are winning.

Earlier this year, our washing machine was not completing a cycle correctly. The model number seems to be one of those ones specific to a long-departed retailer; so, after I was unable to find a copy of the manual, I resorted to more general searches. Turns out that appliance troubleshooting seems to be one of the more polluted genres of query. DuckDuckGo and Google searches alike returned page after page of keyword-filled junk intended solely to rank highly.

So many of my searches for all kinds of stuff go this way, and I am not the only one. It is the current status in the ongoing adversarial relationship Google has with spammers and marketers alike. I think Google has been more successful in burying the dregs of the web. All too often, what has replaced them are word-filled pages of emptiness.