In fact, I find myself spending less and less time on "Google the Search Engine" because it's gotten so damn good at giving me the right result right away based on the simplest and vaguest keywords (I use the omnibar so I don't even go to google.com anymore). I still remember not so long ago having to try different phrasings of my search keywords a number of times before I would get the result I was looking for on the main page (or in cases of extreme frustration clicking through pages and pages of search results). This is largely not the case anymore.
From my general interactions with people and how they use the web, anecdotal as it may be, they simply doesn't give a shit about ads, filter bubbles and so on. Google Search hasn't changed for them in any meaningful way except that it's gotten a lot better at figuring out what they wanted to find (and in most cases they are not even conscious of that improvement over time).
With regards to other other free G-services (Gmail, Docs, G+, Blogger, YouTube), if you are consciously buying into them, it is implied that you know you are entering into a relationship where parts of the real-estate you're interacting with might be used to display ads and I think everyone understands and accepts that.
I am an avid conspiracy theorist, however, and have more long-term concerns about what happens if Google turns TRULY evil and starts to use its data to spy on citizens on behalf of some authoritarian government. But as of right now I feel a little foolish reacting to this concern in any significant way.
I should stress that like any software developer (or any power user, probably), my queries tend to be very specific. I'm looking for particular information (which may or may not exist) that takes more than a couple of words to describe. It is with these queries that all too often Google simply decides that I meant something else and replaces one or two words with what it has decided are synonyms. Except they aren't.
Unfortunately I have not documented all these queries (I should have). But to give some examples, it would not be the first time that Google misinterprets a specific query about "sqlite" and only returns results related to SQL Server. Or it decides that a "scapegoat tree" is equivalent to an "AVL tree". They aren't synonyms. The results are actually worse than irrelevant.
It's like typing a query such as "honda brake problems" and getting results that are about "toyota brake problems". Yes, both are Japanese car manufacturers, but they are really not equivalent.
Of course correcting typing errors and searching for synonyms is useful. But I'd like to have control over that behaviour, and most of all: I want to understand what the search engine does. The best interfaces are those where a user can develop a mental model that helps them interact with it. It seems I'm no longer able to create a mental model for how Google works.
So who do you think should invest the extra effort into performing searches (aka adding quotations.. or "taking them off"): the hackers with specific, but edge-case search requirements, or the 99% of casual users who just want to learn about "how do helycopters fly"
P.S. I tried both the sqlite and the scapegoat tree searches without the quotes and Google seemed to "know" what I meant... but if you encountered that problem perhaps it's an algorithm that unnecessarily "kicks in" depending on some other circumstances of the search. I would definitely classify this as a problem, but one that should again be easily solved with the use of quotation marks
By the way, the scapegoat tree search query was "scapegoat tree inorder append". Try that and observe 90% AVL tree results on the first page.
1) Google focuses more on commercial sites, especially branded sites, than research or personal sites.
2) Sturgeon's law (90% of everything is garbage) and a much bigger world wide web means that there's a lot more garbage indexed, and returned, by Google searches.
I remember that I'd try a search phrase, and I'd be taken to some Web 1.2 site with black text on a grey background; some university professor or doctor would have written a really interesting article and linked to other sites or research. Now I get some reputable site selling stuff, or a bunch of shitty link farms offering me god-awful "reviews", or awful awful blogs.
I remember when search terms would return less than a gajillion hits; you could tell by the extra 'o' in Goooogle how many hits you'd got. When was the last time GoogleWhacking was possible? A result of "zero hits" is important. It doesn't mean the search failed and that Google should feel free to substitute words and try different stemming and remove the quotes. "Zero hits" information for me.
I strongly agree that I'm an edge case, and that Google is great for most people.
1. I already know what I'm looking for: a particular website, post, comment, the lyrics of a song that I know a part of.
2. I have a question, I don't know the answer, but I'll recognize it when I see it.
In my experience Google is getting better at type 1 '(re)discovery/popularity' search and worse at type 2 'exploratory/specificity' search. Depending on the ratio of type 1 vs type 2 in your search habits, Google results will get better/worse for you.
They introduced Verbatim search to solve the specifity problem, but in my experience it hardly ever works :(