Answering a Question Posed in an Essay about Search

February 1, 2024

green-dino_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb dinobaby. No smart software required.

One of my research team asked me to take a look at an essay located at “Notes on Search and AI: More Questions Than Answers” reflects the angst generated by generative artificial intelligence. The burr under the saddle of many online users is festering. The plumbing of search is leaking and many of the thumb-typing generation are getting their Airbirds soaked. The discomfort is palpable. One of the people with whom I chat mentioned that some smart software outfits did not return the financial results the MBA whiz kid analysts expected. (Hello, Microsoft?)

The cited essay ends with a question:

Beep boop. What are you thinking about?

Since the author asked, I will answer the question to the best of my ability.


Traditional research skills are irrelevant. Hit the mobile and query, “Pizza near me.” Yep, that works, just not for the small restaurant or “fact”. Thanks, MSFT Copilot Bing thing. How is your email security today? Good enough I bet.

First, most of those who consider themselves good or great online searchers, the emergence of “smart” software makes it easy to find information. The problem is that for good or great online searchers, their ability to locate, verify, analyze, and distill “information” lags behind their own perception of their expertise. In general, the younger online searching expert, the less capable some are. I am basing this on the people with whom I speak in my online and in-person lectures. I am thinking that as these younger people grow older, the old-fashioned research skills will be either unknown, unfamiliar, or impossible. Information cannot be verified nor identified as authoritative. I am thinking that the decisions made based on actionable information is going to accelerate doors popping off aircraft, screwed up hospital patient information systems, and the melancholy of a young cashier when asked to make change by a customer who uses fungible money. Yes, $0.83 from $1.00 is $0.17. Honest.

Second, the jargon in the write up is fascinating. I like words similar to “precision,” “recall,” and “relevance,” among others. The essay explains the future of search with words like these:

Experiences, AI-generated and indexable
Interfaces, adaptive and just-in-time
LLM-powered alerts
Search quality
Slime helper

I am thinking that I cannot relate my concept of search and retrieval to the new world the write up references. I want to enter a query into a data base. For that database, I want to know what is in it, when it was updated, and why the editorial policies are for validity, timeliness, coverage, and other dinobaby concepts. In short, I want to do the research work using online when necessary. Other methods are usually required. These include talking to people, reading books, and using a range of reference tools at that endangered institution, the library.

Third, I am thinking that the equipment required for analytic thinking, informed analysis, and judicious decision making is either discarded or consigned to the junk heap.

In short, I am worried because I don’t want indexable experiences, black-box intermediaries, and predictability. I want to gather information and formulate my views based on content I can cite. That’s the answer, and it is not one the author of the essay is seeking. Too bad. Yikes, slime helper.

Stephen E Arnold, February 1, 2024

Hi, Mom, I Got a D in Math and Science This Term

November 8, 2022

I have never earned a D grade. In the cow town public high school, the grading system was simple: 93 to 100 = A, 83 to 93 = B, 70 to 82 = C, and 60 to 69 = D. Below 60, say “Hello” to an F, you loser you.

Almost 30% of People Redo or Refine Google Searches, Study Says” reports:

This 30% number comes from 9.7% of users who engaged in a “Google Click,” meaning they clicked on images or something in a carousel after making a query. For these people, they may have actually found what they were looking for. Another 17.9% of users made modifications to “Google Keyword,” or ways to modify their original query. This totals to 27.6%, which was then rounded up by SEMRush.

Should we “trust” the source and its math? Heck no. But the interesting point is that quite a few Google users find that Google search is in the D category.

With the surge of “close enough for horse shoes” and “good enough” thinking, the result is not particularly surprising. In my own experience, I now have to work harder than ever to obtain accurate, useful, relevant information. I routinely cycle through Mojeek, Swisscows, Yandex, and a number of other systems. For me, Google is in the D Minus or F category. The for fee alternatives are disappointing because the depth of their coverage is similar to a child’s plastic wading pool.

What’s this mean? Finding on point information is taking more time which translates into direct costs. That ad supported model is super, isn’t it? “D” does the job.

Stephen E Arnold, November 8, 2022

Google: Grade A Search Baloney

March 31, 2022

I have been involved in online information for more than 50 years. Yep, folks, That’s more than half a century. Those early days involved using big clunky computers to locate a word in a Latin corpus. Then there were the glory days of commercial online products like Business Dateline, the Health Reference Center, and others. The Internet was a source of online craziness that trumped the wackiness of Ev Brenner and his vision for petrochemical data. Against this richly colored tapestry of marketing fabrications, overpromising and under delivering, and the bizarre fantasies of the “old” Information Industry Association I read “Google Search Is Actually Getting Better at Giving You What You Need.”

The write up channels a marketing person at the Google and mixes the search wizard’s recycling of Google truisms with some pretty crazy assertions about finding information in 2022.

Let’s take a look at three points and then step back and put these online advertising charged assertions in a broader context; namely, of the outcomes of a a system which is a de facto information monopoly.

Here are the points I noted in the write up:

Big, baby, big.

The first idea is that Google processes a great deal of information. Plus, Google tests to tackle the challenge of “search quality.” By the way, what does “quality” mean? What happens when you combine big with quality, you get really good outputs from the Google system. Just try it. Do a search for pizza via Google on a mobile device. See what you get? Pizza information. Perfect. So big and quality means good. Do you buy that?

The second idea is that Google like little beavers or little Googzillas works to improve quality. The idea is that yesterday’s Google was not bad; it needs improvement. Many improvements mean that quality goes up. Okay, let’s try it. Say you want information about a loss of coolant accident. You know. Chernobyl, Fukashima, et al. Type in loca and you get Shakira’s video. Type in “nuclear loca” and you get links to a loss of coolant accident. Type in loca and you get results specific to a loss of coolant incident. Note what’s needed to get Google to produce something about loss of coolant accident. The user must specify a context; otherwise, Google delivers lowest common denominator results. One can use Google Dorks to work about the Shakira problem, but let’s face it, very few people are into Google Dorks. (I include them in my OSINT lecture at the National Cyber Crime Conference in April 2022, but I know from experience that not even trained investigators are into Google Dorks.)

The third idea is that Google is embracing artificial intelligence. That makes sense because there are not enough people to process today’s flows of information in the old fashioned subject matter expert way. One must reduce costs in order to deliver “quality.” Does that seem an unusual pairing of improvements and search results? Think about it, please.

Now let’s step back. Here are some observations I jotted on a 4×6 notecard:

  1. Google uses people looking for online information to generate revenue from ads. That which produces more ad revenue is valued. The “quality” is a repurposing of a useful concept to the need to generate revenue. Shakira is the correct result for the “loca” query. That’s quality.
  2. The notion of testing is interesting. What’s the objective? The answer is generating revenue. Thus, the notion of testing is little more than steering or tuning search results to generate more revenue. The adjustments operate on several levels: Shaping understanding via filtering and producing revenue from search results. Simple, just not exactly what a user of an ad supported system thinks about when running a query for pizza.
  3. Smart software is the number one way for Google to [a] reduce costs, [b] deflect legal challenges to its search result shaping with the statement “The algorithm does, not a human”; and [c] create the illusion that Google search results are really smart. Use Google and you will be smarter too.

Believe these assertions? You’re the ideal Google user. Have doubts? You are not Googley. Don’t apply for a job at the Google and for heaven’s sake, don’t expect the Google outputs to be objective, just accept that some information is unfindable by design.

Google Dorks exist for a reason? Google has made finding relevant information more difficult than at any time in my professional career. And every year, the Google system becomes more detached from what most people believe fuels Google’s responses to what Google users need.

Yep, need. Sell ads. Reduce costs. Generate feedback into the system from user’s who have biases. Why are government agencies pushing back on outfits like Google? The quest for qualilty? Nope. The pushback reflects a growing awareness of disinformation, manipulation, and behavior that stifles options in my opinion.

Stephen E Arnold, March 31, 2022

Enterprise Search Art

December 8, 2020

I noted Pixeltrue’s collection of Covid art. Take a look. Very good work. But — there is a but when Beyond Search looks at Covid art. One of the Beyond Search team revised the captions for several of the images so that each reflects more accurately what we call “search syndrome.”


Headache: The direct result of a free Web search results page.

Plus, choking when reviewing irrelevant results:


Gag, hack, hack.

Stephen E Arnold, December 8, 2020

Google Takes On Russia In Epic Fight

January 26, 2018

It is foolish to challenge Russia to a fight.  Napoleon lost his throne because he tried to invade Russia during winter.  Hitler pissed off Stalin during World War II, so Russia switched sides, then the Nazis invaded in winter.  It is a really bad idea to invade Russia, especially in winter.  Google is duking it out with Russia, but this war is digital so maybe Alphabet stands a chance.  The Washington Report discusses the wired Cold war in, “Google Is Getting Pulled Into A Fight With Russia Over RT And Sputnik.”  The real battle is with two Russian news outlets RT and Sputnik, but they are owned by the government.

The reason for battle is due to Russians apparent and supposed influence on US politics-most notably, the 2016 presidential election.  Russia is accused of spreading fake news through RT and Sputnik.  News outlets like Google News picks these up and are pushed to US readers.  Russia is threatening to retaliate if Google pushes RT and Sputniks’ ratings lower in search rankings.  Google decided to curb fake news stories that could be weaponized information against the US.  Russia’s RT and Sputnik are amongst those that distribute fake news.

When asked why Russian-backed sites enjoy favorable placement on Google’s platforms, Schmidt said, ‘We are working on detecting this kind of scenario … de-ranking those kinds of sites. It’s basically RT and Sputnik are the two.’ He added that the company does not want to ban the outlets. And according to Google, the company does not re-rank individual websites.

Russia is, of course, is not happy.  They claim that Google is being discriminatory and are demanding that Eric Schmidt explain himself.  Google just wants to curb fake news and also make sure their platform is not used for nefarious purposes.  Good luck, Google.  Russia is hard to defeat, but how do they stand on the digital front?

Whitney Grace, January 26, 2018

Bing Feverishly Tries to Catch Google

December 18, 2017

Google’s kid brother, Bing, has been trying to get the world’s attention basically since its inception. However, the king of search is a tough one to upstage. Bing thinks it has a bright idea on how to best Google, as we discovered in a recent eWeek story, “Microsoft Bing Delivers More ‘Birdseye’ Views of Points of Interest.”

According to the story, Bing thinks the answer lies in their mapping option,

Bird’s Eye uses oblique imagery processing technology to provide detail-packed views that can help travelers navigate their surroundings by sight.


Oblique imagery is a great complement to Aerial 2D imagery because it has much more depth and provides a view of your destination that is more familiar and in line with what people expect,” stated Microsoft Bing staffers in a blog post. “You can see Bird’s Eye imagery in Bing Maps, and this view can offer a better context for navigation because building facades can be used as landmarks.

It’s admirable that Bing is trying to outdo Google, but more detailed maps are probably not the way to go about it. At the end of the day, it all comes down to search power and Bing just doesn’t have it. Google has such a foothold in the market that the competition looks pretty silly by comparison, like how Firefox and Yahoo recently sued one another.

Patrick Roland, December 18, 2017

Googles Data Police Fail with Creepy Videos

December 13, 2017

YouTube is suffering from a really strange problem lately. In various children’s programming feeds, inappropriate knockoff videos of popular cartoon characters keep appearing. It has parents outraged, as we learned in a Fast Company article, “Creepy Kids Videos Like These Keep Popping Up on YouTube.”

The videos feature things like Elle from “Frozen” firing machine guns. According to the story:

A YouTube policy imposed this year says that videos showing “family entertainment characters” being “engaged in violent, sexual, vile, or otherwise inappropriate behavior” can’t be monetized with ads on the platform. But on Monday evening Fast Company found at least one violent, unlicensed superhero video, entitled “Learn Colors With Superheroes Finger Family Song Johny Johny Yes Papa Nursery Rhymes Giant Syringe,” still included ads. A YouTube spokesperson didn’t immediately comment, but by Tuesday the video’s ads had been removed.

The videos may well draw ire from legislators, as Congress takes an increasingly close look at user-generated content online in the wake of Russian election manipulation.

It feels like they really need to have a tighter rein on content. But it would surprise us if this Congress would impose too much on YouTube’s parent company, Google. With Net Neutrality likely being erased by Congress, the idea of any deeper oversight is unlikely. If anything, we think Google will be given less oversight.

Patrick Roland, December 13, 2017

No More International Google Searches

December 6, 2017

One of the better things about Google is that when you needed to search for results in a different country, all you needed to do was change the domain tag.  Google has decided it does not want to do that anymore shares the Verge in the article, “Google No Longer Lets You Change Domains To Search Other Countries.”

Google, instead, will deliver localized results based on your location.

If you need to access international results, however, the option can be changed on the settings menu on the bottom of  Yes, you have to look for it, but it is there.  Why does Google want to do this?

Google says it’s making the change because one out of five searches “is related to location,” and the company feels it’s critical to offer local information to provide the best results. The feature seems to be tailored most toward travelers: Google says that if you visit another country, it’ll automatically serve results local to where you’re visiting, then switch back again as soon as you arrive home. Before, if a traveler had kept typing in their home country’s Google domain, they may not have gotten what Google sees as ideal search results.

Before you think this is another way Google is trying to control search content, apparently Alphabet Inc. has already been doing this with YouTube and Gmail.  The procedure has just been carried over to search results, but at least there is a way out of the localized content.

Whitney Grace, December 6, 2017

Alexa Can Name the Tune If You Sing a Bar

November 24, 2017

A brief write-up at MakeUseOf points out a nifty Alexa capability—“How to Search for Songs by Lyrics on Amazon Echo.” Writer Nancy Messieh writes:

One of the Echo’s native features (recently pointed out by Lifehacker) is the ability to search for songs by lyrics. Rather than pulling up a browser on your phone or computer, you can just ask Alexa using the voice command ‘Alexa, what’s the song that goes [lyrics]?’ If Alexa recognizes the song, she’ll let you know the title and artist and will start playing the song immediately. Amazon also recently released a list of the top 50 most requested songs by lyrics through Alexa. The number one song HandClap by Fitz and the Tantrums. Other artists that appear on the list include Justin Timberlake, Journey, Ed Sheeran, and Queen.

The feature can also report the most-searched songs by the city, though so far that list only includes five major cities in the U.S. Perhaps the Echo will add cities as more users take advantage of the search-by-lyrics feature.

Cynthia Murrell, November 24, 2017

Google Leans Left with Climate Search Results

September 13, 2017

Most Google users never think about bias and politics when they search or read suggested pages. Many, though, believe that the average Google user is being sold a bill of goods when searching about climate on Google. A recent WUWT investigation discovered that Google is manipulating the search results to favor left-leaning political ideas. WUWT quotes Google as claiming that their ranking is determined by the following criteria: “High-quality information pages on scientific topics should represent a well established scientific consensus on issues where such consensus exists.” (Section 3.2)

The author goes on to explain,

But the allegations of ‘scientific consensus’ are made only in one field – climate alarmism!  ‘Scientific consensus’ is almost an oxymoron.  The consensus is a decision-making method used outside of science.

Google was set up to be free from bias, but according to their own explanation, they tend to support the most popular opinion which is a dangerous route to take. Would people want a truly impartial system of search, allowing each searcher to evaluate the source for accuracy and ‘scientific consensus’, or do we like to rely on others, and Google, to make the hard decisions for us?

Catherine Lamsfuss, September 13, 2017

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