Google Search: An Intriguing Observation

August 9, 2021

I read “It’s Not SEO: Something Is Fundamentally Broken in Google Search.” I spotted this comment:

Many will remember how remarkably accurate searches were at initial release c. 2017; songs could be found by reciting lyrics, humming melodies, or vaguely describing the thematic or narrative thrust of the song. The picture is very different today. It’s almost impossible to get the system to return even slightly obscure tracks, even if one opens YouTube and reads the title verbatim. 

The idea is that the issue resides within Google’s implementation of search and retrieval. I want to highlight this comment offered in the YCombinator Hacker News thread:

While the old guard in Google’s leadership had a genuine interest in developing a technically superior product, the current leaders are primarily concerned with making money. A well-functioning ranking algorithm is only one small part of the whole. As long as the search engine works well enough for the (money-making) main-stream searches, no one in Google’s leadership perceives a problem.

I have a different view of Google search. Let me offer a handful of observations from my shanty in rural Kentucky.

To begin, the original method for determining precision and recall is like a page of text photocopied with that copy then photocopied. After a couple of hundred photocopies, image of the page has degraded. Photocopy for a couple of decades and the document copy is less than helpful. Degradation in search subsystems is inevitable, and it takes place in search as layers or wrappers have been added around systems and methods.

Second, Google must generate revenue; otherwise, the machine will lose velocity, maybe suffer cash depravation. The recent spectacular financial payoffs are not directed at what I call “precision and recall search.” What’s happening, in my opinion, is that accelerated relaxation of queries makes it easier to “match” an ad. More — not necessarily more relevant — matching provides quicker depletion of the ad inventory, more revenue, more opportunities for Google sales partners to pitch ads, and more users believing Google results are the cat’s pajamas. To “go back” to antiquated ideas like precision and recall, relevance, and old-school Boolean breaks the money flow, adds costs, and a forces distasteful steps for those who want big paydays, bonuses, and the cash to solve death and other childish notions.

Third, this comment from Satellite2 is on the money:

Power users as a proportion of Internet’s total user count probably followed an inverted zipf distribution over time. At the begining 100%, then 99, 90%, 9% and now less than one percent. Assuming power users formulate search in ways that are irreconcilable from those of the average user, and assuming Google adapted their models, metrics to the average user and retrained them at each step,then, we are simply no longer a target market of Google.

I interpret this as implying that Google is no longer interested in delivering on point results. I now run the same query across a number of Web search systems and hunt for results which warrant direct inspection. I use, for example, iseek.com, swisscows.ch, yandex.ru, and a handful of other systems.

Net net: The degradation of Google began around 2005 and 2006. In the last 15 years, Google has become a golden goose for some stakeholders. The company’s search systems — where is that universal search baloney, please? — are going to be increasingly difficult to refine so that a user’s query is answered in a user-useful way.

Messrs. Brin and Page bailed, leaving a consultant-like management team. Was their a link between increased legal scrutiny, friskiness in the Google legal department, antics involving hard drugs and death on a Googler’s yacht, and “effciency oriented” applied technologies which have accelerated the cancer of relevance-free content. Facebook takes bullets for its high school management approach. Google, in my view, may be the pinnacle of the ethos of high school science club activities.

What’s the fix? Maybe a challenger from left field will displace the Google? Maybe a for-fee outfit like Infinity will make it to the big time? Maybe Chinese style censorship will put content squabbles in the basement? Maybe Google will simply become more frustrating to users?

The YouTube search case in the essay in Hacker News is spot on. But Google search — both basic and advanced search — is a service which poses risks to users. Where’s a date sort? A key word search? File type search? A federated search across blogs and news? What happened to file type search? Yada yada yada.

Like the long-dead dinosaurs, Googzilla is now watching the climate change. Snow is beginning to fall because the knowledge environment is changing. Hello, Darwin!

Stephen E Arnold, August 9, 2021

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One Response to “Google Search: An Intriguing Observation”

  1. Lead Isotope Analyses, Local Bookstores, Stingle, More: Monday Evening ResearchBuzz, August 9, 2021 – ResearchBuzz on August 9th, 2021 7:58 pm

    […] Search: Google Search: An Intriguing Observation. “Net net: The degradation of Google began around 2005 and 2006. In the last 15 years, Google […]

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