Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Internet Lie #5

Last week’s Internet Lie #4 explained why using a search engine doesn’t search the entire Internet. So regardless of the content of the Internet, you can’t search all of it. Unlike the song, “You can get anything you want in Alice’s restaurant,” you can’t on the Internet.

But equally disturbing, is this corollary: What you find is what you want. No. What you find has little to do with what you want. It has everything to do with the goals of the makers of search engines. Here are two quotes from the cult of the amateur by Andrew Keen (2007) that tell you all you need to know:

“Google . . . answer[s] our search queries not with what is most true or most reliable, but merely what is most popular.”

“The core of Google’s business, 99 percent of its revenue, lies in its sale of advertising.”

Therefore, despite what Google says,

“The company’s more immediate goal is to create ‘the perfect search engine,’ which it defines as ‘something that understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want.’” — Nicholas G. Carr, The Shallows (2010)

Their actual goal is to give you enough hits to provide space for the advertising that makes them big money ($9.03 billion for the quarter ending June 30, 2011).

These hits may be, in fact, what you’re looking for—if what you’re looking for is what other people have been looking for. If not, they will be either a) popular, b) vaguely related to your search, and c) totally unrelated to your search. You can be sure, however, they will be of sufficient numbers to provide space for Google’s advertising. What you want has little to do with it.


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