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Google and the collapse of Western civilization

Robert X. Cringely | Nov. 19, 2009
The Web is getting dumber by the minute, and Google is largely to blame. We need smarter search engines, before it's too late

Here's what makes it worse: Google and the other search engines are about as smart as well-trained Golden Retrievers. They will fetch whatever you tell them to fetch -- but only what you tell them to fetch. So if you want the dog to find a hambone, it will find a hambone. Wrap that bone in a sock or bury it under a pile of leaves, though, and it's like your dog suddenly has no nose. That hambone might just as well not exist.

So if you write a story about a laptop and you want Google to find it, you'd damn well better put "laptop" in the headline, the subline, any boldfaced text, and sprinkle it liberally through every paragraph of the story. The more often you repeat the same phrase, the better the search engines will treat you. If you use notebook, netbook, portable, or any other synonym -- what used to be known as good writing, in the pre-Web days -- Google turns into the Golden Retriever with no nose.

Thus we end up with completely asinine (yet Google friendly) stuff like this:

There's water on the moon. Yes, you heard me right. Water on the moon was found by scientists. What does water on the moon mean? Will water on the moon really make a difference in our lives? These are the questions I sat out to answer.....

Further more, ice on the moon could give scientists insight in to the creation of our solar system. Polar ice has given scientists many indications of how the Earth was formed, and ice on the moon could give even more information.

So, to summarize: Water moon ice water moon. Got that?

This "story" comes via, which I could swear used to be an actual news source at one time but now just seems to regurgitate search terms in almost random fashion.

Couple this disturbing trend with companies like Demand Media, which generates 4,000 Web articles and videos each day based entirely on search term popularity and profitability (see "This blog has NOT been brought to you by an algorithm"), and you end up with a Web that is rapidly filling up with crap.

As more sites struggle to rise above the noise and get traffic, they will resort to these kinds of tactics, publishing less original reporting and more odious regurgitation. Because the regurg is cheaper to produce and makes them more money. Case closed.

The problem, as I've said before, is how search engines work -- or rather, how they don't work. And by "search engines," I really mean Google. We need it to get a lot smarter in a hurry, before we all end up in cloud cuckooland.


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