Monday, January 10, 2011

Google is clothes free - what's next

When a man's paycheck depends on his not understanding something, you can depend upon his not understanding it. Upton Sinclair's Law

After Jeff Atwood pointed out that Google search isn't working any more the rest of my geek tribe piled on. We all agree - the emperor isn't wearing anything at all. My recent personal anecdote concerns searches for Apple support documents. Instead of finding the ad-free originals Google found inferior rewrites [1].

The root cause of this problem isn't hard to understand. One easy fix would be for Google to boost the ratings of ad free pages like (cough) Gordon's Notes. In a stroke that would eliminate most of the splogs (spam blogs) and junk pages. It would also eliminate Google's revenue.

Google will dial back a bit and improve their results, but they have a fundamental business problem. So, for that matter, do all of its competitors. The only real fix is to charge end users for search.

We won't pay for search alone. We should, but we won't. We aren't smart enough. Apple has shown, however, that millions will pay for their ad-free, and remarkably crummy, MobileMe services.

What if Apple were to partner with Google (or Bing) and offer search results tweaked and reordered to favor ad-free content as a part of an enhanced pay-for-use MobileMe offering? For that matter, they could do their own search using their mysterious Carolina facility.

Search is expensive. Hideously expensive. The best search requires that we pay directly. Someone will have to figure out how to make this work. In the meantime we can read

[1] Which, frankly, weren't bad. I wouldn't mind them if they actually referenced the source documents. Which they don't.

Update 2/24/11: Google dropped the hammer. The new algorithm gives similar results to the Chrome-only search personalization tool. In my own limited testing my blog posts are much more often on the front page -- even with personalized search turned off.

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