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On the increasing uselessness of Google (broadstuff.com)
63 points by kgarten on Jan 2, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 60 comments

So true. It only opens the doors to vertical search opportunities. I have stopped searching Google a few years now, instead I search on Wikipedia for information, on Amazon/Newegg for products to buy and on Yelp for location-based reviews. Wikipedia in particular (not Facebook) has eaten Google's lunch, in my opinion, because when someone says "..to organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful.." I think of Wikipedia, not Google, despite what http://www.google.com/corporate says.

Google is gmail+maps to me, not search.

I also search IMDB for movies suggestions and ratings, in addition to Wikipedia and Amazon.

I would still use Google because I don't like thinking about the kind of search I want to do and I don't think having Wikipedia/Amazon/IMDB as the only sources of information is healthy.

But goddammit, Google needs to do something about that spam.

DuckDuckGo for general "search," Google for maps, Wikipedia for information, HackerNews for tech/business news, Yelp/Urbanspoon/local indie paper for restaurant reviews... hmmm, looks to me like we're heading toward a more specialized, ahem, "there's an app for that" future.

Google is trying here too, at least in Fashion and Local. They've put a lot of weight behind the launch of Boutiques.com and behind Google Local (even trying to buy Yelp a while back).

For what it's worth, I still use Google all the time, for a wide variety of uses, from extremely specific programming questions, to vague "should you take painkillers when you have a fever?" type questions, ranging across pretty much everything, and I have not noticed any decrease in results quality or had any trouble finding what I wanted.

You do need to know how to ask, but if you know how to ask, Google knows how to answer very well indeed.

I wonder if this new "Google sucks" meme is manufactured by some competing interest. I know it sounds a bit conspiracy-theory-like, but there have been many articles over the last few months repeating this theme.

>I wonder if this new "Google sucks" meme is manufactured by some competing interest.

It's not manufactured by anything beyond Google sucking. I've spent the better part of a year quietly raging as an essential tool loses its edge. I wondered for a long time if I was alone. Surely, I though, I must be crazy, others would also speak out if Google were getting that bad.

And finally, they are.

I wish, instead of spraying their pants about Google Suggest and cribbing the social media mechanism of the moment, Google would focus on what matters and make their core product work as well as it used to.

Instantly returning spammy, junky results doesn't do dick to improve the search experience.

I wish, instead of spraying their pants about Google Suggest and cribbing the social media mechanism of the moment, Google would focus on what matters and make their core product work as well as it used to.

I'm sure they are, but in the presence of increasing numbers of spammers and content mills that's an AI-complete problem.

It's always the same spammy site that comes up over and over again. Surely they can fix this. At this point even a mechanical turk paid to manually blacklist some spam website could improve the situation.

it's not an AI problem. It's not wanting to hurt the bottomline. Sites with more ads than anything else are banned from DuckDuckGo, for example. And that is a search engine run by 1 person only, if I am not mistaken.

Maybe so. But I think the more likely explanation is that people are starting to find better results by using Wikipedia, Stack Overflow, IMDB, Blekko, DuckDuckGo, etc. that Google, comparatively, looks worse than it did before.

After reading this article, I switched my default search engine to Blekko. But then I had to switch it back, because honestly the results were nowhere near what I was looking for.

I sense the "second coming" of the search aggregators...

Something like Dogpile 2.0?

I guess you have a good tolerance for 'spam' or your keyword generation algo for search is very good. I haven't been able to get good results from google for sometime. In fact this year (oh I should say last year), I wasn't able to get results that answered my queries on the first page many a times. When I moved to DuckDuckGo, I was a happy man. Now DuckDuckGO is my default search engine. I use Blecko when I am exploring for sites and content. I use vertical specific search sites for certain domains, citeseer and mendeley for work related stuff, and surprise, surprise, I find twitter to be a good source for searching too!

google search sucks is not a meme, at least for me it's a reality.

Really? I have had enormous troubles with using the web interface for gmail. I have receive "Trouble receiving that message..." almost weekly and now I know not to depend the availability of my emails if they are more than a year old. The worst part is that I am a student, and I barely get more than 10 emails a day. Imagine how traumatized a busy working individual would be.

I mostly use Google to search specific sites these days. It's fantastic for that. Individual site searches suck and I'm certainly as guilty as anyone else doing a quick job on that ... LIKE '%foo%' ... heh.

But when you stray outside of known sites you get all kinds of garbage in the results and unsurprisingly it's always monetized by AdSense. If Google was serious about fighting spam they only have to audit AdSense publishers. Of course that's asking them not only to invest a ton of resources but to do it with the intent of making less.

do it with the intent of making less

... Initially.

Google's strength has long been tackling the difficult, hairy, algorithmic tasks of data processing, ranking and retrieval. They rose to absurd prominence by coupling a smart approach to search with a virtuous mechanism for targeting ads.

Users won – they found what they were looking for. Advertisers won – they found customers they needed without wasting money. Google won – they became essential for everyone.

Google's strength is emphatically, absolutely not anywhere related to user experience or design. Their early product succeeded because the under-the-hood functionality was superb and they didn't have any taste to design anything beyond the absolute simplest interface that would work. Simplicity and efficacy beat mediocre, complex competition.

When you look at the Google of today, there's zero focus and a pile of products where UX is essential to success. They compete with people who can deliver outstanding user experience and reliable results. Can Google evolve to the point where UX is a strength instead of a liability? Can they succeed with such a scattered approach against focused competition?

Maybe. I give them even chances – they have more money than god. But if their boredom with their original, solely-profitable core product continues to manifest itself in the sloppiness and neglect we see today, I fear they aren't long for this world.

Google's weakness is in no way related to UX ... their algorithms have been gamed for a while now, and it shows in the crappy results they return.

The problem Google has is that eliminating the spam is both technically challenging and detrimental to their bottom line: after all, most spam in Google's index is serving Google's Ads.

I agree.. I think Danilo doesn't understand what good UX is. UX and visual design are two different concepts, and they are also separate from product value.

This makes me really wonder about the saturation of knowledge in SEO, the number of companies in the SEO, and the maturity of the Google "algorithm".

As I understand it, the history of SEO/Google is as such (simplistic view):

1. Google creates a search algorithm (that is not 100% known to externals) that tries to match your search term with valid, true content.

2. SEO strategists -- whether by legitimate or deceptive means -- tailor content, HTML, etc to match this algorithm.

3. Google has constantly improved and tailored this algorithm to prevent spammy type sites.

4. There is a growing consensus that spam is taking over Google search.

This all leads me to believe that either Google is losing it's touch on it's search algorithm or it's simply matured to a point that it can no longer out-game the gamers (SEOs).

If this is the case, the only solution is for competition in search to return - it's much easier to exploit one ranking algorithm than it is to simultaneously exploit multiple algorithms. It's not really a problem in Google so much as a result of Google's popularity.

Perhaps Google can facilitate the competition in search by becoming infrastructure for search companies.

You are not the customer. You are the product. Google works just fine.

Yes, but I'll only remain in their inventory insofar as their secondary product, the one I use, remains the best.

Voted up.

Crucial point: Google is not consumer-centric. Google is advertiser-centric platform in the guise of consumer-centric one.

Google's value to the advertiser is purely a side effet of the number of consumer eyeballs that it can call its own.

How are these sites spaming PageRank ? I understand that it's fairly easy to create sites with dynamically generated content for common search words but how are they getting enough incoming links to rank highly on Google's search pages ?

Actually the trick isn't going for common search words, its going for specific long-tail search phrases. "How do I make tacos with ground beef" instead of "tacos beef howto". Currently google will rank a near-exact long-phrase-string match above a less exact more bunch-of-keywords one with more inbound links.

Tech people, sysadmins in particular, have been living with this in the form of Experts Exchange for a long time. However since they're usually the second or third link among a pile of mailinglists and forums you just learned to skip them. The popular fad in "Q&A" sites (stackoverflow, answers.com, yahoo answers, quora) exists specifically to exploit this revenue/traffic opportunity.

But thats for tech stuff/people. When it comes to general consumer searches the real 800lbs gorilla is Demand Media. If you want to really wrap your brain around how silly this has gotten, read this: http://www.wired.com/magazine/2009/10/ff_demandmedia/

In a way this is all backhandedly from the success of google. We all got so used to it being so good at finding what we wanted, we learned to just "talk" to it, but writing into the search box pretty much exactly what we'd say out loud.

I'm not quite seeing how that's causing the problems that people are complaining about. If I was looking for dishwasher reviews I would just type "dishwasher reviews" and you'd think that legitimate review sites would have those keywords as well as lots of incoming links. So they should beat out dynamically generated sites.

There are a lot of ways for SEOs to get links. The simplest is to buy them.

It's not that hard, actually. You even have tools like SEnuke or Xrumer to automate the process. Get a few backlinks from .edu, .gov domains and then post some spammy articles/comments all over and you're good to go. If you are going after a competitive keyword, then you can setup linkfarms using Wordpress.com, Blogspot and a lot of free blog hosting services. Again, this can be automated or outsourced for pennies.

Link farms, comment spamming, etc.

There's a lot of these sorts of "Google not useful" articles going by all of a sudden. Is this a 5th column PR attack by Microsoft et al?

It's not a conspiracy. The google results has sucked for a good year and a half to two years now.

There are always clusters of related articles. In this case it is a cross between "me too!" and "king has no clothes". Search in google with a product name or, god forbid, "review" is indeed worthless.

The worst is when the link for review is actually "be the first to review this product!". This isn't the review I'm looking for google.

@broadstuff.com: I'll check back and delete this comment once the site is restored

For those trying to get to the page here it is from Bing's cache (Google ironically hasn't cached it yet)...

The lead up to the Christmas and New Year holidays required researching a number of consumer goods to buy, which of course meant using Google to search for them and ratings reviews thereof. But this year it really hit home just how badly Google's systems have been spammed, as typically anything on Page 1 of the search results was some form of SEO spam - most typically a site that doesn't actually sell you anything, just points to other sites (often doing the same thing) while slipping you some Ads (no doubt sold as "relevant"). The other main scamsite type is one that copies part of the relevant Wikipedia entry and throws lots of Ads at you. It wasn't just me who found this - Paul Kedrosky found the same(http://paul.kedrosky.com/archives/2009/12/dishwashers_dem.ht...):

Google has become a snake that too readily consumes its own keyword tail. Identify some words that show up in profitable searches -- from appliances, to mesothelioma suits, to kayak lessons -- churn out content cheaply and regularly, and you're done. On the web, no-one knows you're a content-grinder.

The result, however, is awful. Pages and pages of Google results that are just, for practical purposes, advertisements in the loose guise of articles, original or re-purposed. It hearkens back to the dark days of 1999, before Google arrived, when search had become largely useless, with results completely overwhelmed by spam and info-clutter.

And I can't believe Google doesn't know this - nor does Paul:

Google has to know this. The problem is too big and too obvious to miss. But it's hard to know what you can do algorithmically to solve the problem. Content creators are simply using Google against itself, feeding its hungry crawlers the sort of thing that Google loves to consume, to the detriment of search results and utility. For my part it has had a number of side-effects. One, I avoid searching for things that are likely to score high in Google keyword searches. Appliances are an example, but there are many more, most of which I use mechanisms other than broad search. Second, it has made me more willing to pay for things. In this case I ended up paying for a Consumer Reports review of dishwashers -- the opportunity cost of continuing to try to sort through the info-crap in Google results was simply too high.

Reading the comment's on Paul's blog post was interesting - you can parse the responses into 3 broad groups:

- Yes, we agree with you, and here are some tips on how to deal with it - Yes, but its not poor Google's fault, its those evil spammers (ie Google has no way of changing their systems and is at the mercy of SEO) - No, there is no problem, this is the best of all possible solutions (complete bollocks IMHO, it was definitely better a few years ago)

(Ignoring the ones trying to pimp their own products or agendas of course, and the end posts comparing the economics of online vs library copies of Consumer Reports.....)

Ignoring these comments, I have found my behaviour is exactly the same as Paul's , i.e. increasingly reaching for paid-for, edited research (Which? in the UK) as Google and some of the "comparison" sights (clearly flooded with Spam, Sock Puppets and Sleazeoids) become less and less credible. (Another aside - I had a gift voucher from Amazon, and searching for a book I wanted I found Page 1 was totally full of results for the book on Kindle, which was very irritating - they need to allow one to select e-book and/or book).

The interesting question to me is what happens if this gets worse, as Google risks attacks on 2 fronts:

(i) Other search engines decide to eschew Ads for accuracy and cut down the spamming, to gain market share. There is an article on Techcrunch today about Blekko, which appears to promise this.

(ii) The market for paid-for search and research grows - how much would you pay per month for a neutral search engine? Which? costs about £7 a month, would you pay that for a neutral engine?

Frankly, I don't believe that it is not possible to reduce this sort of spam, I think Google's problem is more that it is trying to navigate a line between income (systemically the more spam there is, the more Ad money it makes) and usefulness (how much spam can you run before the user walks away) and has veered too far to the spamside.

"I ended up paying for a Consumer Reports review of dishwashers"

I've found the value of consumer reports giving a me a general overview of any given genre of consumer goods has not been diminished in the internet age.

Google cache (more readable than your text dump):



"Other search engines decide to eschew Ads for accuracy and cut down the spamming, to gain market share."

This probably only works as long as they are small, i.e. of little importance. With market share comes the spam.

Anyway, I don't think google is that bad. At least, I don't find google any less useful than other general purpose, non-specialized search engines. I'm more concerned about their use of personal data.

This weekend my wife was looking for some business school publication. The first several items Google retrieved appeared to be SEO collections of fairly pointless links.

* @broadstuff.com: Sorry I can't edit or delete after a certain amount of time goes by.

site seems ok again now

Ironically, I read this article via Google's cache. How useful!

It would be nice to be able to create a blacklist of sites that I want to never show up in my search results. If any search engine implements this, I'd switch.

No I hadn't seen it, thanks for the link!

The url isn't loading for me, and I can't seem to find a cache of it. Is the url supposed to look like this?


Here's my cache of the page using my side project:


I know google does try and combat this. For example any adsense account making more than x dollars per day does get investigated and if they're deemed to be too spammy their sites often get penalised in the indexes e.t.c.

But adsense is only one advertiser, there are many more. And the problem is the measures taken to combat this are likely penalise new sites and new (legitimate) content.

It's a difficult line to tread really.

Google has technical ability to stay on top of spammers, but may not have enough incentives in the short term for ads revenue or lack of competition. Also, their foray into mobile platforms, social networks, and TVs etc comes with huge opportunity cost - at the end of day, the top guys can only have limited attention.

It's interesting—this is a war, with Google on the losing side, and yet there's very little discussion of the winners—the spammers.

Considering how amazing Google's accomplishment has been until recently, the spammers have obviously really, really stepped up their game. But all anyone talks about is Google's "failure."

I find productreview.com.au to be the best Australian review site I've found. It's not perfect, but it's fairly comprehensive and has (mostly) well written reviews. Amazon as always is also worth a read

Call me stupid and old-fashioned, but to me Google still is the one true search engine which always finds what I'm looking for. I've tried Bing and others, and I've been disappointed.

The point is not that google is worse than something else, it's that it's worse than it used to be, and that it shows no sign of improvement.

any comment from google on this issue recently?

The last official comment on anything related to this was a vague mention that resources had been taken away from the search quality team to work on other projects, but that they would be refocusing on search quality in the near future. Not sure if there has been much else in the way of official comment since then, but I can't imagine that they would let the cries (warranted or not) go unanswered for much longer.

Windows Mobile sucks: that's what my Samsung Omnia taught me as a customer. Never again.

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