Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

The Elements of Search, Part Four


Search engines didn’t invent the model of free distribution supported by advertising. In the beginning, there was radio—and it was anarchy. Then came government regulation, because radio was broadcast over the public airwaves. As radio grew into a mass medium, costs also grew. Since the airwaves were free, radio borrowed an idea from another medium, newspapers. The idea, of course, was to sell advertising.

Search engines used the same model. What they did differently was apply the power of the computer—actually the power of many millions of computers. And that has made many magnitudes of difference in their advertising dollars. But all that computer power wasn’t enough, so search engines decided to manipulate how we search.

The primary purpose of search engines is not providing fast, accurate results. Of course, they want the appearance of fast, accurate results—with a special emphasis on fast. Uppermost for search engines is to keep users using the search engine. In this way, they maximize the user’s exposure to the advertisements that make the money. Money that can add up to many billions in a single quarter.

To search the Internet, search engines must be very, very clever. They are equally clever in controlling how we search. One method to keep us searching is to assume they know better than we do what we’re searching for. They also want to revamp why we search: it’s not about finding answers but rather the joy of searching.

Search engines use many, many tricks to keep us searching. Too many to list here—and they’re always finding newer and better tricks. Just remember that search engines don’t want us to find our answer and leave; they want to keep us searching. They want to keep putting those ads in our faces.

Next month: How the science of search was lost and became a black art.

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One thought on “The Elements of Search, Part Four

  1. I thought Yahoo and Google were my friends. Isn’t that why they have such cute names? I can’t believe it. OH MY GECKO!

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