Day of the Google

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Clean it up

Trust, its a funny concept isn’t it? It rates quite a lengthy entry in Wikipedia and its nature is described ‘the subtleties of trust are a subject of passionate debate’. It can take years to build up and a moment to lose it.

Two things struck me in a couple of articles that I had read regarding Internet search and trust. The first was the reaction from the blogosphere that Google’s Zeitgeist is not the most frequently searched terms over a period. Bloggers like GigaOM were bending themselves out of shape.

Off course it isn’t, when I was at Yahoo! we got around the issue that Zeitgeist has with a more abstract concept called the Buzz Index that looked at levels of increase in a search term over a period of time. We also had our Finds of the Year which were found via an editorial process. You can find the one that I ran here and this years one being done by my former colleagues here.

Ultimately these measures Zeitgeist, Buzz Index; call it what you will are a bit of fun, water-cooler fodder – harmless PR fluff. If Google and the rest of the search engines revealed a straight most searched for list three things would stand out:

  • We are base creatures of habit, very little would change over time; especially our collective obsession with excessive materialism and pornography in all its myriad of forms
  • We are surprisingly illiterate; there would be countless misspellings – there is a reason why Google puts that ‘do you mean _____’ option right under the search box when you misspell a word
  • We are clumsy and, or stupid: we often miss the web address bar in the browser and will put a URL directly into the search box instead, and then search for it

An unhappy outcome of putting this unadulterated information in the public domain is that it would provide SEO companies and less scrupulous operators with an ideal tool to decode the search engine secret sauce and pollute search terms so that they become meaningless.

That would mean far more dishonest results from Google than just a bit of Zeitgeist fluff.

The second one about search and trust came from author and former journalist Frederick Forsyth.

I grew up with Forsyth’s books; when I started secondary school Forsyth was a kind of modern-day Robert Louis Stevenson for me. His first book: The Biafra Story was a serious piece of reportage on the Biafran War was one of the few pieces of truthful writing about the conflict.

In his PR efforts to promote his latest novel The Afgan, Forsyth did an interview with Der Spiegel.

Forsyth admitted that he did not own a mobile phone or a computer, having a distrust of technology. He finished the paragraph with “I also don’t use the Internet for searches because frankly I don’t trust it.”

Forsyth’s skepticism is interesting because he is genuinely fascinated with how government and Islamic extremists use technologies to further their own ends. It is not a generational issue because he is obviously well-versed enough to get on and use the technology if he wanted to (or pay for someone else to teach him). The reservation seems to come from the rigorous approach of his private research.

And there is some merit in his standpoint: when modern publications and research techniques show both bloggers and journalists up, whilst more traditional journalists like Matt Drudge and Seymour Hersh get the real stories the old way.

Google and other search engines will only produce what they find, whilst there is some editorial input used in selecting sources for news search – verifying the truth of information unearthed on the web is currently far beyond the most optimistic hopes for the semantic web.