Google Search Quality: Heading South?

April 25, 2017

Forbes, the capitalists tool, ran this article or sponsored content on April 17, 2017: “Is Google’s Search Quality Starting to Decline?” My first reaction was the question, “Compared to what? Precision and recall scores? Other free, ad supported Web search systems? Looking up information in a commercial database?

My questions were just off base or from another dimension.

The capitalist tool does not fool around when it comes to explaining why something is good or bad. The capitalist tool walks like Commodore Vanderbilt; that is, somewhat unsteadily in his dotage.

I learned from the capitalist tool:

Individual users, companies and organizations, and even governments have stepped up to blame Google for not providing quality results.

The “quality” idea comes from Search Engine Land, a publication which embraces Web search and search engine optimization. That orientation is okay with me, but it has very little to do with relevance. There is that annoying precision calculation. Plus, there is the equally annoying recall calculation. Some die hards actually create a statistically valid sample and attempt to determine if results from queries delivered the information the person running the query expected. There are library schools and researchers who worry about these silly methods. Not so much with the SEO crowd.

Back to the argument in the capitalist tool. I highlighted this passage:

users have always had the ability to report offensive auto complete suggestions, but now, Google has made the process more visible and immediate. In an even bigger push, Google has employed more than 10,000 independent contractors to serve as “quality raters,” responsible for identifying and flagging inaccurate and offensive material including fake news, for various search queries.

Ah, Google’s quality scores determined by Google’s smart software and its well crafted algorithms are no longer enough? Well, that’s a surprise. I thought the fake news, the mismatched ads, and the relaxation of queries to make that ad inventory shrink more rapidly were not much of an issue. Well, there is that push back from outfits like AT&T, but what’s a few cancelled ads from a minnow like AT&T.

The capitalist tool knows where it’s next Whopper is coming from. I circled this statement:

It’s important to realize just how sophisticated Google is, and how far it’s come from its early stages, as well as the impossibility of having a “perfect” search platform. Humans are flawed creatures, and our actions are what are dictating the shape of search. We can patchwork some of these problems, but the Google search quality crisis won’t disappear overnight, and can’t be blamed for being anything more than the byproduct of a sufficiently sophisticated machine designed to serve us.

Interesting idea—blame.

My takeaway from this scintillating analysis is that the capitalist tool needs to do a few queries about “quality”. Just a thought. By the way, the databases to use will not be part of the result set. Google partitions its indexes so that a research has to run queries across different Google silos. Also, commercial databases are likely to provide more comprehensive results from sources Google does not index. Hey, who cares about this precision and recall stuff when writing about offensive answers to queries, Google’s auto complete mechanism, rich snippets, and popularity?

Not too many at Forbes I surmise. Maybe SEO is search to these smart people who can demystify SEO and mystify information retrieval.

Stephen E Arnold, April 25, 2017


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