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Ask HN: Is Google is broken for discovery?
82 points by xfour 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 44 comments
My own thoughts based on a recent series of queries below.

TLDR I think it is most definitely.

Recently I was fortunate enough to be able to afford buying a home.

An empty home needs a lot of furniture to fill it. I've graduated from Ikea furniture I suppose, or more correctly I don't think I'd be able to make a successful pitch to the wife that this is the correct place to shop for furniture.

So, off I go to Google to try and see what the landscape is for furniture. The usual suspects all show up. Cranes and Bottles, Possibly Barn, Mercys, Blossomdales. And that was it. I scroll down, different variants of pages for these, ads... again more duplicate pages of brands I already know, more ads, so on and so forth. The "next page" is replaced by a "see more", and when I tap it just more of the same.

I literally couldn't find anything organic other than major brands, who not coincidentally were likely paying for adwords as well.

This isn't what I want to see in a search engine, I doubt it is for anyone else. I could have just typed in those domains, I know them all already.

I feel like at this point, it's time for a back to square one search results engine. Monopolies eventually kill off all brand goodwill and it looks like we've hit the tipping point.

I generally do a google search now and tag 'reddit' at the end, to find useful conversations around the topic I'm interested in. It's been working great so far.

This is like the first thing I research for. I usually prepend reddit because somethings I search things like:

"reddit software X vs __________"

because the alternative is not semantically correct

"software X vs reddit"

google is smart enough to know I really meant "site:reddit.com software X vs _________"

The same is true for youtube, if you go to the video's section sometimes you don't get youtube results on first listing. Just prepend "youtube"

I also do this very frequently.

Search for reddit itself isn’t great but Google usually surfaces more popular threads from reddit which have valuable and ranked comments on any topic.

This is what I do as well. The upvotes, downvotes and comments mean I trust threads with a lot of comments because I know the top voted comment has had some critical evaluation. The top Google result tends to only be authored by one entity and you don't see critical comments about it.

And to think they had a special 'discussions' search that would search forums and groups.

Adding !r to the end of a Duck Duck Go search does the same thing.

I started to question google, when I found myself doing this alot

also, you can use site:reddit.com to get results only from reddit domain

Ha, exactly what I did in the end. I thought I was clever.

But if this is the case then what value is google providing other than a good search interface on subreddits?

That's the whole point inevitably, if it was good we won't stay on a page/multiple result pages for long. Also the rationale behind removing direct image links, so as to keep you on a JS executing page.

“Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.” — Clay Shirky https://kk.org/thetechnium/the-shirky-prin/

I wrote about this before:


Basically, Google doesn't have an incentivize to ever provide some unique results to you. They solve for the "general" use case, and the more you click through the better for them (higher likelihood you'll click an ad).

I'm actually working on my own kind of search, it's the basis for a few of my websites.

local furniture stores near me

turns up a good number of stores that are, in fact, near me. Brick and mortar, local, boutique places. Places I've never heard of. Yeah, the ads are for the usual suspects. But not only were there a lot of places that seem at least somewhat interesting on their own, there were a lot of articles from local news sources about furniture shopping in Dallas, TX. Which is also really convenient because that's where I live. Articles about the benefits of going local over big brands (internet driven or otherwise), where, when, and how to find good bargains locally, which shops are better for what categories of furniture. Etc.

I mean, Google certainly has some problems, but I don't think this is one of them.

Could be location helping. Not a lot of craft furniture stores in the Southern Part of Silicon Valley. Yet another side effect of buildings being worth 1k a sqft

Home furnishings are a bit special. The market is flooded with cheap Chinese goods. There’s no way to tell what’s good, and there are way too many choices/knockoffs. Plus it’s too heavy to return if you don’t like it. You really have to see it in person to have the confidence that it’s right.

This is also true for cabinets, flooring, lighting, etc.

I agree with you that’s its probably the worst case. But let’s explore, I also need a new TV, well not need but it’s been around 10 years figure I want to see what’s up in the TV market. This time there was one new review site I was happy to see called rtings that I hadn’t heard about. But between thats was 50 versions of better buy and the like.

Perhaps it’s false nostalgia but I feel like search results used to have some variety.

I was about to say that headphones were in the same place as furniture, where any ratings cannot be trusted, and the only way to guarantee a quality product was trial and error. Maybe the problem space is larger than I realized but I just do not buy enough stuff to notice.

I've mostly given up on product research and now just use Wirecutter.

When I want to discover new stuff, I just keep excluding things I don't want. For furniture, just add "chair -ikea -x -y -z" until you no longer see results from them.

I wish I could permanently ban results from websites that game (or pay for) their rank and whose content I am not interested in(generally the big guys like web.md, etc..) I think at some point google had an x for each result and you could remove it from the search. They didn't keep it. Does anyone know of any plug-in or script to do that? I know i could do -web.md but there are way to many sites that occupy the first pages of results I want removed

I don't know a plugin, but this seems like a good idea. Maybe I'll try to circle back around this weekend and build out something.

Also can you think about shareable blacklists similar to how AdBlock works? And easy enable and disable. I'm thinking that if I don't get any good search results I could compare with a search without blacklisting. Thanks

Oh that’s pretty cool I didn’t know you could do that.

You can't expect a tool to work when you don't know how to use it.

You're blaming google because you're using the tool wrong. If you're searching for furniture, type in 'furniture'. If you're searching for different furniture brands type in 'different furniture brands'. If you want to discover furniture brands type in "discover furniture brands".

I suspect the difference in experience relates to the idea that a recent homebuyer is valuable marketing product. OP is probably getting flooded because of financial circumstances.

I agree that discovery is broken. I too cannot find a brand or organic non-toxic children’s furniture except by very roundabout searching through similarities on Amazon, etc.

Totally. This was another thing that bugged me to no end trying to separate the wheat from the chaff so to speak. I went with JontyCraft which I originally found on amazon and then cross referenced myself. Seems like they are US based and when they arrived the chair was extremely solid no toddler is going to break it I think adults if they could fit it could sit fine it’s so well made.

Google has changed it's search to favor corporate interests. It doesn't reflect the real internet anymore.

Search for movies, you get a list of newspaper reviews instead of the forums or independent reviews. Everything, even recipes, gets links to newspapers. It's so useless now.

What I do is "-news" or add "forum, reddit, etc" in my searches. Or I just simply jump to page 5 of the search result. Or I started to use duckduckgo more.

The same thing with youtube. If an event happens, I used to just search for the event and I'd get the most revelant/most viewed links. Now, it's pages of CNN, MSNBC, WashingtonPost, NYTimes, etc links.

It seems like google just wants to be a glorified newstand. I can't believe how horrible it has gotten. It takes effort to get what you want now.

I suspect it's a side effect of their anti spam efforts. Just making sure big brands fill the top-n slots kills a lot of spam. At the expense, of course, of most of the good stuff.

Also a side effect of AMP and factoring in page speed in rankings. Publishers got bullied into AMP-ifying all their content and now their winning the recipes and movie review game.

Google's major problem is that it's in an adversarial relationship with the SEO industry. For any given keyword there is a lot of money to be made by being in the top 3 results, which means the top results tend to be dominated by businesses with the resources to mount a focused and persistent SEO campaign. This leads the results to become saturated with content marketing rather than "organic" content.

Recently I went to Berlin for a startup bootcamp and met the CEO of Mablo[0]. Their aim is to solve this problem, so that people can find products that fit their exact needs. The point is the problem that you described above is real, everyone else also faced it and there is a company that is trying to solve it.

I agree with the other comment. It is not that search engines are broken. But having ads does not incentivize any search engine to make products discoverable.

[0] https://mablo.net

33 out of the 36 results on the first page of a google shopping search for "furniture" are all from Living Spaces for me, with a pretty homogeneous aesthetic

Right? How is that useful to anyone?

Google has a problem that they are not content generator, and their every attempt to create community around content generation failed, knol, google+, google answer, blogspot etc. Their reliance on other people to create relevant content could not solve the problem no matter how efficient their algorithm is. I wish they give one more go at content creation with much more distributed control and privacy awareness.

when I search Google for "furniture" one of the first results is the craigslist furniture section for my city, much of which is free.

Google doesn’t provide a great mechanism for discovery or human curated content. That’s why many use Pinterest and Instagram for discovery.

Pinterest at least for me is the worst browsing experience ever. Sucks you in with thumbnails that you can’t enlarge and regwalls and annoyance I personally avoid it like the plague

When I search for furniture I get a huge variety of different stores and brands, many of which I've never heard of before. Have you tried searching from a private browser window?

Search is not about discovery. It’s about already knowing what you want. (Or it should be, Google’s steps away from this are what irritates everyone.) Try Pinterest.

I do seem to get many bad links, but I think it may be Search Engine Optimization? Or possibly it seems Google takes me to more social media links than in the past.

It is in fact common that what I look for will not be found easily in any search engine.

Did you try other search engines too ?

What other search engines would you recommend?

I feel like Pinterest is a better platform for these type of queries.

if you 're doing image search and not interested in stock photo sites, try bing or yandex

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