The search is over

Any regular reader of this blog will know that I’m a huge fan of the Register and Andrew Orlowski in particular for telling it the way it is. Perhaps with a little added sneering cynicism thrown in for good measure. Orlowski’s retrospective on the good old days of Google ‘Google abandons Search‘ is very much in this vein, marking the decision of Google to move away from authority-ranking (dubbed ‘Page Rank’ in El Reg)  and start including extensive ‘live’ social media content.

Of course, there are some catches in that last sentence. SEO experts will give you very different views on what relationship, if any, Page Rank had to actual page rankings (the term ‘Page’ refers to Larry Page not to web pages). And the ‘live’ social media in question may not be very alive at all, it’s probably turgid junk. But it is current and was generated by someone who likes to spend their time creating 140 character message so what the hell…

I’m sure Google’s still doing loads of fancy things to filter search results, but perhaps the leap that both Google and Bing have made to surface the latest, weakest content to the very top of their search results pages misses a point about why that content is generated in the first place. Which is that it was generated in a social context, not in the context of the whole web.

Whilst the content on Twitter is often unfiltered garbage, and an alarmingly high proportion of SPAM, it seems unlikely that many people are going to want to see it sitting at the top of their search results pages. And bear in mind, these results will not be filtered by being in my network. As it is, I mostly follow people on Twitter I actually know in real life and many of them still seem incapable of ever posting anything I’d like to read. But, listening to garbage is certainly easier to take when it’s generated by your friends and acquaintances.

And what is the equivalent of Page Rank (or any supposed Google technology to place a value on a piece of content)? It can’t be followers, follows, re-tweets. All of these things are thoroughly open to SPAM, and the formation of very narrow online groups.

Rather than venture further into the unindexed content which is on the web (some estimates put Google indexed content at 1% of total web content – see ‘Deep Web‘), as Google (and Microsoft and Yahoo) turn up the volume control on this often-vacuous content (ultimately from just a handful of sites), the effective change is much larger than has been reported – from a search-result world where quality and authority was valued to one where brevity, simplicity and speed are what matters.

Perhaps Google is trying to put us off vacuous micro-blogging content  through overfeeding. Or perhaps it has – as Orlowski suggests – finally thrown its hands up in the air and given up. Both seem unlikely. What’s the really evil possible answer? Perhaps they’ve realised that by filling the top left of the SERP with user-generated gibberish, user will have no choice but to click on the paid-result on the right.