Google has certainly been catching a good dose of hell lately for the perceived decline in the quality of their search results however a closer look at some of the actual criticism raises some questions.
Earlier this month, TechCrunch published an article from Vivek Wadhwa entitled, “Why We Desperately Need a New (and Better) Google,” in which Wadhwa laments the difficulty of using Google to research venture firms, before ultimately concluding that “Google has become a jungle: a tropical paradise for spammers and marketers.”
Off the bat, I was a little surprised that an academic would voice such a strong opinion based on one anecdote. What I didn’t see in the piece was any compelling evidence that would actually support his general thesis. After using a nice “hook” and going on the offensive against Google, I was expecting to see a fully developed argument complete with some quantitative data.
Instead, Wadhwa goes on to spend the majority of the article promoting a new search engine called Blekko. In an ironic twist, Wadhwa, who blasts Google for being overrun by “spammers and marketers,” ends up promoting Blekko in a manner your typical Google spammer might only dream of. Wadhwa may actually have a point but I’d really like to see some actual evidence and meat behind why he feels so “desperate” that we need a new Google.
Regardless, there may be truth behind all the noise. It’s telling that Google’s Cutts responded last Friday. According to Cutts, “the evaluation metrics that we’ve (Google) refined over more than a decate [show that] Google’s search quality is better than it has ever been in terms of relevance, freshness and comprehensiveness.”
Ignoring for a moment the fact that Cutts cites Google research to prove that Google’s results are better than ever, the response in and of itself is rather telling. In a media ecosystem where you have VC’s funding companies that create content based on Google query trends (as opposed to actual editorial inspiration), there is certainly something amiss.
A couple somewhat-associated thoughts:
- Google might benefit from focusing more on helping users run more sophisticated queries. Paul Kedrosky’s critical article (also based on one anecdote) contains one useful nugget: “I avoid searching for things that are likely to score high in Google keyword searches.” Anyone who has taken Philosophy 101 is familiar with the importance of asking the right questions. It may be a fact of nature that simple questions result in simple answers and refined questions result in refined answers. Instead of focusing on how to prevent marketers from providing simple answers to simple questions, maybe Google should be more focused on helping searchers ask more refined questions.
- Google should start focusing more on surfacing the mounds of incredible content that is out there. I remember having dinner with a friend of mine working on his PhD thesis a while back and thinking that there was something intrinsically wrong with the fact that when all was said and done, my blog posting about widgets, written in twenty minutes, would be read more than his thesis. There is a goldmine of amazing content being generated in academia that is buried on desktops. Even the content that makes its way onto the indexable Web is completely buried due to A. a lack of search friendly language being used by authors and b. Google’s inability to make consistently intelligent inferences about what content is about.
- Google should do a better job making content producers accountable beyond the Web. Google News seems to take the credibility of sources far more seriously than Google Web. By focusing more on the source itself and less on the manifestation of the source, Google might actually be able to better ensure that the manifestation (content) is of a higher caliber.