Google Results Are Relevant… to Google and the Googley

January 3, 2023

We know that NoNeedforGPS will not be joining Prabhakar Raghavan (Google’s alleged head of search) and the many Googlers repurposed to deal with a threat, a real threat. That existential demon is ChatGPT. Dr. Raghavan (formerly of the estimable Verity which was absorbed into the even more estimable Autonomy which is a terra incognita unto itself) is getting quite a bit of Google guidance, help, support, and New Year cheer from those Googlers thrown into a Soviet style project to make that existential threat go away.

NoNeedforGPS questioned on the relevance of Google’s ad-supported sort of Web search engine. The plaintive cry in the post is an image, which is essentially impossible to read, says:

Why does Google show results that have nothing to do with what is searched?

You silly goose, NoNeedforGPS. You fail to understand the purpose of Google search, and you obviously are not privy to discussions by search wizards who embrace a noble concept: It is better to return a result than a null result. A footnote to this brilliant insight is that a null result — that is, a search results page which says, “Sorry, no matches for your query” — make it tough to match ads and convince the lucky advertiser on a blank page that a null result conveys information.

What? A null result conveys information! Are you crazy there in rural Kentucky with snow piled to a height of four French bulldogs standing atop one another?

No, I don’t think I am crazy, which is a negative word, according to some experts at Stanford University.

When I run a query like “Flokinet climate activist”, I really want to see a null result set. My hunch is that some folks in Eastern Europe want me to see an empty set as well.

Let me put the display of irrelevant “hits” in response to a query in context:

  1. With a result set — relevant or irrelevant is irrelevant — Google’s super duper ad matcher can do its magic. Once an ad is displayed (even in a list of irrelevant results to the user), some users click on the ads. In fact, some users cannot tell the difference between a relevant hit and an ad. Whatever the reason for the click, Google gets money.
  2. Many users who run a query don’t know what they are looking for. Here’s an example: A person searches Google for a Greek restaurant. Google knows that there is no Greek restaurant anywhere near the location of  the Google user. Therefore, the system displays results for restaurants close to the user. Google may toss in ads for Greek groceries, sponges from Greece, or a Greek history museum near Dunedin, Florida. Google figures one of these “hits” might solve the user’s problem and result in a click that is related to an ad. Thus, there are no irrelevant results when viewed from Google’s UX (user experience) viewpoint via the crystal lenses of Ad Words, SEO partner teams, or a Googler who has his/her/its finger on the scale of Google objectivity.
  3. The quaint notions of precision and recall have been lost in the mists of time. My hunch is that those who remember that a user often enters a word or phrase in the hopes of getting relevant information related to that which was typed into the query processor are not interested in old fashioned lists of relevant content. The basic reason is that Google gave up on relevance around 2006, and the company has been pursuing money, high school science projects like solving death, and trying to manage the chaos resulting from a management approach best described as anti-suit and pro fun. The fact that Google sort of works is amazing to me.

The sad reality is that Google handles more than 90 percent of the online searches in North America. Years ago I learned that in Denmark, Google handles 100 percent of the online search traffic. Dr. Raghavan can lash hundreds of Googlers to the ChatGPT response meetings, but change may be difficult. Google believes that its approach to smart software is just better. Google has technology that is smarter, more adept at creating college admission essays, and blog posts like this one. Google can do biology, quantum computing, and write marketing copy while wearing a Snorkel and letting code do deep dives.

Net net: NoNeedforGPS does express a viewpoint which is causing people who think they are “expert searchers” to try out DuckDuckGo,, and even the Russian service, among others. Thus, Google is scared. Those looking for information may find a system using ChatGPT returns results that are useful. Once users mired in irrelevant results realizes that they have been operating in the dark, a new dawn may emerge. That’s Dr. Raghavan’s problem, and it may prove to be easier to impress those at a high school reunion than advertisers.

Stephen E Arnold, January 3, 2023


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