Ten Ways Google’s Fucking Up

A half-amusing list created by a graduate desperate for a job working for free for twelve months mostly background-sourced from Wikipedia expressed in a very rude and insulting manner in the hope it might be linked to by a few real bloggers thereby gaining 10 cents in AdSense revenue.

Are you happy with Google’s search results? Well, it depends on where you’re coming for. It’s still my first port of call for searches for things I know nothing about. If I need to look up a HTML tag or some PHP code, for instance, I’ll normally get a steer to a half-decent tutorial by Googling. Normally, the more obscure my search, the better.

It’s still decent for ego-searches… I can search for “Secrets of the Fire Sea” and find what bloggers think of my newest novel.

But increasingly, over the last 24 months, I’ve become more and more unhappy with the results returned on for what I’ve been searching for by Google (and Bing, with its uncanny way of replicating Google’s search results down to the last URL). Normally, that’s because I end up on some piece of shit page with very little utility to what I’m actually searching for, but that just happens to contain the key-words I’m searching for. And the reason for that is more often than not the ‘content farm’ – a business model where you set up a content-based web site and churn out articles using mostly unpaid free interns working in battery hen conditions.

You can recognize these sites by the type of articles they write. Here’s some content-farmed scifi article ideas just off the top of my head. ‘Ten Worst Time Travel Paradoxes in the Movies’ – ‘Seven Sexiest Barbarian Girls from Fiction’ etc etc. The content has to be original, otherwise Google blacklists you for content piracy, the earliest form of content farm where black-hats just downloaded the Disney site and re-loaded it on their own URL with a load of casino and nooky adverts. Wasn’t my Donald Duck!

But original doesn’t have to be useful, especially if said journalist starts the day with a ‘How to BBQ Chicken’ article, before moving on to their ‘Twelve Best Steampunk Novels’ article. What, you like steampunk and you can BBQ? Shit, that’s multi-talented. Even if the content farm’s focus is a single hobby/genre/profession, the high volume of articles they have to churn out to make the model profitable (for the owners) means they’re going to be bypassing anything insightful and just spewing anything that garners the clicks.

Sometimes you just ask Joe Public to submit thousands of articles for free (or near-free) – aka the Huffington Post model, as recently sold to AOL for muchos green stuff. Even Yahoo is getting in on the content farm act with http://www.associatedcontent.com – where you too can be a real journalist, offering to split the ad revenues with their ‘journalists’ (albeit very marginally).

TechCrunch recently wrote on this theme over at http://techcrunch.com/2011/02/12/search-still-sucks/, and if you care for your search results, take a minute to read this.

The quote from this article which really nailed it for me is…

“Demand Media is worth $1.6 billion, and their entire business is based on pushing cheap, useless content into Google to get a few stray links. If Google was good at search, Demand Media wouldn’t exist. And Bing wouldn’t be making solid gains in search market share. And JC Penney wouldn’t be able to massively game search results for a few months, during the holiday season, without getting caught until months later.”

Got that right. But what’s to do, that’s trickier, and you can guarantee that far smarter minds than me are working on it at Google as well as a host of VC-backed stealth start-ups hoping to be the new Google.

Assigning some kind of quality mark to sites irrespective of how many links a site gets would be one way to help weed out the farmed rubbish – doing this in an automated way without the expensive banks of editors that Yahoo used to employ once upon on a time, that would be some technical magic.

The real problem is this. Take two articles with more or less the same key-words and the same word count. One is written by your favourite science fiction author on the SFWA site, the other is written by a hungry graduate trying to meet his fifty-a-day quota in the vein hope that twelve months worth of free bylines will get him an entry-level position in a real newspaper the Net hasn’t yet hit with an asteroid.

How the fuck is an algorithm going to tell those two apart?

Hmmmmm, I’ve got an idea, and it’s going to make me very very rich!

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