Saturday, February 20, 2010

why the internet sucks: the death of information gathering

Yeah I said it, rub on your broken web-surfboard cause it's as broken as Mark Sloan's wiener in that episode of Grey's Anatomy. It's not that the entire internet is crooked, and it's not a problem of infrastructure, I've just got some issues with the current state of web searches, and how library-like information organization has been replaced by profit-minded, competitive information creation. Here is the issue: when we search for particular info on google/yahoo/bing, or when we ask our friendly butler Jeeves a question, the websites that we wind up at are not necessarily those with the best answers, but rather those that are bestly search engine optimized.

The breakdown in internet searches is due to a couple of things, two of which: our information hunter gatherer technique and the search engine algorithms. When we are googling things we share some brain processes with the guy in the department store, who just wants to get in, and then get out to take a shit. When he walks through the door he has already spotted his purchase: "yeah, that'll do." And he's gone. We hit return, and then most likely pick the best bet from among the top 10 returns; in the past year, I'd bet that I've been on the 4th page of results of a google search about as many times as bill gates has roleplayed "i'm a mac and i'm a pc" with his wife. or maybe that is actually a lot. "you're bad, mac, you're veryyy bad".

That's issue one. the second component of the problem is the obsession with SEO as a profit-maximizing tool. Search engines use algorithms to get you the very best content, and these algorithms return as the top results the websites which it thinks are gonna serve you. up. but the problem is is that people both know how the algorithms work, and have an incentive to increase their search engine ranking: they know that we are very page 1 centric, and thus the higher you are, the more money/(hungry, anxious) you get. So commerce websites optimize in order to be among the creme results, and individuals create search engine friendly websites that are themed appropriately towards hot search terms. These web articles are written to get high search engine rankings, which will then turn into ad revenue. Try searching something like "weight loss". The results that you get will not necessarily guide you to the best information, but instead to the websites that put out SEO style, so as to get hit on by google and its friends.

This gives meaning to the idea of the internet as an information marketplace. This ain't no socialist library where information is distributed like manischewitz at your brother's Bar Mitzvah . On the internet, information is sold. Dangerously though, we still think that we are in an old-fashioned library trying not to get shooshed, when in actuality this library is substantially different. Here, books aren't laid out according to Dewey's decimals but instead in a hierarchy based on how closely the authors followed their SEO manuals. and this library isn't funded by tax dollars, the books are on the shelves because Proactiv, AT&T, GM and Best Foods have banners on every wall.

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