More thoughts on moving beyond Google.
I’ve been saying for awhile that Google doesn’t work for me—but I think this
essay crystalizes the thought in a much better way than I’ve been able to.
If you click through all 14 pages of results Google returns for [disney],
nothing I could conceive of as interesting appears. Corporate website this,
chewing-gum news article that. But if you refine it a little and search for
[disney blog], then by result Page 7 things start to get interesting.
I’m not sure I agree yet with the idea that we can solve this with better search
engines—I am really focused on trying to bring humans back in: as editors, as
librarians, as explorers—we can do this kind of stuff really well, this is our
strength! But I’m warming up to the idea that search engines could be a tool for
What is clear to me is that it is time for separate tools. A search engine
designed to be used by billions of people every day to do daily tasks is not
one that will be appropriate for weekend meanderings though obscure topics. A
content-sharing site like Reddit that encourages links to the New York Times
will not generate thoughtful discussion.
See, to me the issue is that ANY algorithm involves encoding a ruleset that
strictly describes what it is looking for. So by the time you encode your crate-digging
behavior as an algorithm—it has lost its flavor.
Imagine a computer writing
jokes. Not that that can’t work—but I think computers are far away from making
jokes that aren’t inadvertant.
So only by being nearly random does it become
evasive enough to avoid malignant behavior. But a human is subject to its own
evasive manuevers—it can get fatigued with sameness, it can become bored, it
can become sensitive to the fashions of its time, it has its own ineffable
subjectiveness. So it is capable of leaving its encoding—of evolving, or of
returning to its roots, discovering something forgotten or uniquely nostalgic. (I think
the algorithms are great for discovering the answer to a technical
question—you want that search to be predictable.)
This is a great article and it describes a longing for the kind of thing that
we’re all trying to build here—I know it sounds like I’m wrapping all of you
out there—and those I’m communicating with regularly—in a blanket
statement—if I am, then certainly push back—but I think this is what ties
us: to preserve humanity on the Web, perhaps to find more meaning in this work.
So I hope to see this Crawshaw person around here at some point.