Yesterday I published an article on the evolution of Google Search. I wanted to write something about this topic because every few months some version of the same claim goes viral: Google Search is dead or dying. I spoke with a bunch of search-industry experts, folks at Google, and people who have labored in the content mines creating some of the keyword-riddled junk posts that tend to clog search results. I thought I’d use this newsletter to talk a bit more about search and the tensions that come with a maturing internet.
The evolution of Google mirrors the evolution of the internet in general. It follows, then, that some of our anxieties about Google Search may be tied to broader feelings and frustrations with the internet in general. For a specific type of internet user—one who can still remember analog and early digital life, but who was an early, eager, and savvy adopter of the technology—there is a deep frustration with the commercialization of the web, which appears to violate the radical, open spirit of the early promise of the internet. This feeling, or the stereotype of it, boils down to something like: We wanted an information utopia; we got intrusive spam, fakery, ads, walled gardens, disinformation, grifters, filter bubbles, and monopolies. Google Search, in some cases, is a great example of this failed promise. Are Google’s search results getting less helpful? Or is Google’s product evolving with an internet that is degrading, becoming filled with useless information?
As I argued in the piece, asking whether Google Search is dying is a fruitless question. Google Search is too massive and too opaque to adequately assess a claim like that. What was most interesting in the reporting of this piece was the way that a product like Search inspires all kinds of contradictions.