Tuesday, November 25, 2008

commentary on why google must die

John Dvorak write an essay in PC Magazine entitled "Why Google Must Die." It's a pithy article on search engine optimization (SEO) and the SEO tricks that are in play to work best with Google or get around a Google feature. This is an an essay that I never would have noticed had it not been referenced in a posting by Stephen Abram that I very much took notice of, also entitled "Why Google Must Die."

His post is a response to the often-heard suggestion that OPACs, federated search, and web site search engines should be "just like Google." He asks what should be implemented first:

1. Should I start manipulating the search results of library users based on the needs of advertisers who pay for position?
2. Should I track your users' searches and offer different search results or ads based on their private searches?
3. Should I open library OPACs and searches to 'search engine optimization' (SEO) techniques that allow special interest groups, commercial interests, politicians (as we've certainly seen with the geotagged searches in the US election this year), racist organizations (as in the classic MLK example), or whatever to change results?
4. Should I geotag all searches, using Google Maps, coming from colleges, universities or high schools because I can ultimately charge more for clicks coming from younger searchers? Should I build services like Google Scholar to attract young ad viewers and train or accredit librarians and educators in the use of same?
5. Should I allow the algoritim to override the end-user's Boolean search if it meets an advertiser's goal?
6. "Evil," says Google CEO Eric Schmidt, "is what Sergey says is evil." (Wired). Is that who you want making your personal and institutional values decisions?
There's more to the post. I admire a forthright post like this that pushes back on the assertion that doing things the Google way is automatically better.

I used to have lengthy discussions with a library administrator in a past job who wanted image searching to be just like Google images, because searches on a single word like "horse" would always produce images of horses at the top of the results. It was a lot of effort to explain that this was somewhat artificial, due to the sheer number of images and, that, in the absence of descriptive metadata, that having the string "horse" in the file name would ensure that they would be near the top of the list and that Google didn't actually recognize that it was an image of a horse. Sorry, we really did need to expend effort on descriptive metadata.


Lee Drake said...


I couldn't agree more - and disagree at the same time :) I just love when googlefiles, applefiles, etc. imagine that their favorite toolmaker is somehow NOT in the business of making money, and therefore not "evil".

Of course Apple, Google, and others are in the business to make money. Just like Microsoft, IBM, Yahoo, and HP are in the business to make money. To brand one vendors money-making methodology over another as "evil" or "good" is a purely subjective and jingoistic approach to business.

So that begs the question: if you're building a search engine and you're NOT getting paid for it somehow (see above list for some ways Google makes money) then who IS paying for it. Because the storage, software, development, bandwidth, etc. are all NOT FREE. So you must do SOMETHING to make money with your search engine unless you are going the route of taxpayer funding - and good luck with that :)

So the first question I always ask when an entrepreneur comes to me with a search engine idea of one kind or another is - nice idea, how are you going to make it be at least break even, and - if you want funding - VERY profitable.

Which derives back down into the "ok so which thing are you doing from the aforementioned list - or is it something entirely different"?

I'm certainly not saying that the above methods are the only way to make money from search - but they set the bar. People are apparently willing to tolerate such things if they can get their search for free and it delivers what they consider reasonable results. So if you're offering a different money-making model you have to consider if that model is competitive with how Google (or Live, or Yahoo or whomever) make money.

Ross said...

I feel like there's a fallacy here, though, that it's a bit of a zero-sum game: you either do everything like Google (Amazon, etc.) or fail.

It's also counter-productive to point out the questionable aspects of any project/company/initiative and make the claim that just because x does y it invalidates any reason to emulate x.

There's a huge difference between "learn from what Google (Amazon, etc.) does well" and "copy absolutely Google (Amazon, etc.) does".

Basically this "Google must die" meme comes across as another example of libraries sticking their heads in the sand while continuing to lose credibility in the public's mind.

Of course Google does some evil things, as does Amazon, Microsoft or any organization that needs to have a competitive advantage to keep the lights on (see also: OCLC). I suspect SirsiDynix, in some quarters, has also been accused of "evil".

Certainly Stephen's criticisms of Google are valid, but does anybody honestly think that the proponents of a more Amazoogle-like library are calling for the methods pointed out in his bullet points?

No, they are merely saying that having a single search box that gets the user pretty much exactly what they want from the uninformed query they used in a simple and intuitive interface is what we should be striving towards.

You know, I was going to conclude this with links in Google, Amazon and a Unicorn system for "Mark Twain", but I can't do it, because I don't have any idea how to link to a Unicorn system without it failing due to session stuff in the URL.

And this is exactly my point.