Home Technology Is Google’s reign of terror over the internet finally coming to an end? Look for me…

Is Google’s reign of terror over the internet finally coming to an end? Look for me…

by Rizwan Syed

For seasoned internet users, our era can be divided into two periods: BG and AG – before and after Google. The year 1998 symbolizes the start of a new era. Before then, a slew of “search engines” attempted to give searchable indexes to the web as it grew exponentially. The finest of these was AltaVista, which debuted in 1995 and offered the web’s first searchable, full-text database through a user-friendly interface. It was the engine that I and most of my colleagues used until one fateful day in 1998 when an even more austere webpage with a basic text field and absolutely nothing else but the term Google arrived. And there was no turning back once you started using it.

Why? Because Google employed a novel method of determining the relevancy of the results returned by a query. It was successful in performing an automated peer evaluation of websites. The more pages that linked to a site, the more relevant it was thought to be, and thus it was given a higher rating. The algorithm that performed this, known as PageRank, was the foundation upon which Google’s dominance of internet search was created.

Google swept all before it because its ranking system appeared to be objective: it just counted links and ranked them accordingly. Of course, it can be manipulated, and a cottage industry of search engine optimizers has sprung up to ensure that their clients’ pages rank highly in Google searches. However, Google consumers may rest assured that the corporation was not favoring certain results over others. There was no advertising involved.

The company’s founders were adamant that favoring sponsors’ pages would taint the results’ accuracy. “We expect that advertising-funded search engines will be inherently biassed towards advertisers and away from the needs of consumers,” they wrote in 1998. “We believe the issue of advertising causes enough mixed incentives that having a competitive search engine that is transparent and in the academic realm is crucial.”

That’s correct. After burning through investors’ money for two years, the founders realized in 2000 that high-minded neutrality doesn’t pay the bills, so they evolved into surveillance capitalists, monitoring their users to collect information about them that marketers would find interesting. Google’s sales surged by approximately 4,000 percent between then and the company’s initial public offering in 2004.

For a long time, the incursion of advertising concerns didn’t seem to worry users much, despite the fact that it irritated industry competitors and authorities, particularly in the EU (to which Google has paid billions of euros in fines). Despite this, it has maintained its dominance as the most used search engine in many parts of the world for, well, forever. That shows the corporation is doing something well, if only because true rival search engines are easily available, unlike, say, Facebook.

All of this makes a blog post by Dmitri Brereton, a software programmer at a San Francisco firm, all the more intriguing. “If you’ve tried to look for a recipe or product review recently, I don’t need to tell you that Google search results have gone to shit,” Brereton wrote under the heading Google Search Is Dying. You’ve probably seen that the first few non-ad results are SEO [search engine optimization] optimized sites with affiliate links and advertisements.”

“Especially when it comes to true information,” he adds, Google still provides good results in many other categories. You may believe that Google results are beneficial to you and have no idea what I’m talking about. What you don’t realize is that you’ve been preventing yourself from searching for the majority of the things you’d like to search for. You already have a sneaking suspicion that Google isn’t going to give you a nice outcome.”

My hunch is that this is the online equivalent of a storm in a teacup because I don’t have a dog in this battle (I use Google very infrequently and DuckDuckGo most of the time). When I use Google, it’s usually for real information, so my experience may differ from that of the Reddit and Hacker News crowds. It’s possible, as the New Yorker posits, that Google’s results are a reflection of how good the SEO camp is at gaming PageRank.

Three additional plausible reasons for displeasure with Google, according to the CEO of DuckDuckGo (who, of course, has a dog in the fight). One is people’s dislike to being followed. Another source of irritation is Google’s preference for its own items in purchase-related search results. And what about the third? Simply boredom: we’ve been in AG for so long that people are yearning for a change. If that’s what’s really bothering them, they should keep in mind that help is only a click away.

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Noshad Ali

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