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Google: Blind faith in search science does not lead to user trust

There is a very large amount of dissatisfaction with Google search results, but we still continue to rely on it. Something has to give.

On October 31, 2011, Jason Hiner explored a fundamental question about Google and how it conducts its business:

Can Google survive its blind faith in the algorithm?

Jason clearly explains how Google's search algorithms, which have served them so well in the past, could now doom the company's future success because the algorithms are failing. Jason sums it up this way:

As huge as social media is, the even bigger challenge for Google has been the declining potency of its search engine. In recent years, Google searches have become a lot less useful and a lot more frustrating. It has become more difficult to find stuff that you know is out there - even stuff that you've searched for (and found) previously.

Jason's analysis is supported by the results of a poll I took in July 2011, which asked a specific question:

Do you trust that Google gives you the best search results?

Take a look at the pie chart and note that only 22% said yes that that question. The other 78% do not trust the results either because the algorithm failed (55%) or because someone purchased better search result placement (23%).

That's a very large amount of dissatisfaction with Google search results, which is still the flagship product of the company.

Inquiry

If we don't trust Google search results, why do we still depend on it so often? Do you think Google realizes the lack of trust their search results are generating and the destructive nature that lack of trust will have on their brand?

Is there a viable alternative to Google search?

About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

10 comments
KatherineCopas
KatherineCopas

I understand that Google wants to use the algorithm as a means to circumvent human bias while doing search queries, but isn't placing paid sites at the top of a search list a type of personal bias in it's own right? Generally speaking I can still eventually find the information that I am looking for when I use Google, but I do find it somewhat silly that I have to ignore the first 5 results or so when doing so. Has anybody else noticed that Wikipedia articles (which used to be first on the list no matter what you searched for) are now in the 3-7th slot on a search list?

dogknees
dogknees

Being a technical site, I'd like to hear what people are suggesting Google should replace their algorithm with? What is this thing that is not an algorithm?

seanferd
seanferd

This is really a "brand faith" question, and brand faith is ... faith. Nothing more. Of course, if you are the type to look at only one page of results, and you leave it at the default ten per page, you must really trust Google. If you don't ever use a different engine, this is doubly true. So, are you lazy, or do you really look for relevant results? Of course, the number of users who cannot (or simply will not) compose a decent query string is astronomical. Being your own worst enemy, don't expect good search results. (Because you'll take the trouble to sign up for a forum and ask there, instead of spending five seconds bothering to search.) Further, if you let Google (or whomever) track your searches, &c., do expect to see the results Google thinks you want based on past behavior. This can really skew the results you see. Don't forget to avail yourself of "advanced" search options. These can make an enormous difference. Although I'm not a huge fan, I generally find that Google produces the best results, even if I have to filter through a couple pages myself. What I really wish would stop occurring is the delivery of multiple results for a single page, and results for which the link does not take you to the relevant page (forums are particularly prone to this).

adornoe
adornoe

and you'll notice that, Bing has results that are relevant to the new "Stop Online Piracy Act", while Google is still devoid of the references to the act. Perhaps by the time one of you do the search, Google may have updated their database. ----------------------------- Update: I tried the search again, and this time Google does have the item, but, on the second page, and the first page has no items of relevance to the bill in congress. But, I found it interesting.

travelcare_chris
travelcare_chris

Keeping in mind this is on a tech forum, I imagine the logic based mindsets should be more apparent. There are three key words here; "trust", "best", and "always". As buyers of technology saying you "trust" a company puts you in the camp that will defend them against naysayers. When you trust something you hang a bit of yourself on that trust that is pained if that trust is broken. As such, I would have to say most techs are not going to trust a great deal of companies as a whole. Keep in mind, saying you trust a company, is not the same as saying you trust them to always screw up. I am referencing the trust mentioned in the polling question. I would say that "best" suggests that Google must do a better job than any other possible search engine and "always" means that it is best regardless of what you are searching forever and always. Clearly there are other tools out there that will get us the information faster. Wolfram|Alpha, for example, excels at calculations and science in ways that Google search was never intended to. The mere existence of another site that can even once give better search results for a specific topic creates a logical "no" to the question being polled. Personally, I am surprised the number of "no" responses was that low.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

If we don't trust Google search results, why do we still depend on it so often?

adornoe
adornoe

No matter where the information originates, and no matter what source brings it to you, each step along the way, somebody is thinking about how to present that information, and so, whatever one gets fed into his mind, has undergone some sort of treatment. The only real way to get "unfiltered" information is to be the first eyewitness to the creation of that information. But, that's an impossible task when the information and news is coming fast and in vast amounts from all parts of the globe. The "best" mechanism might be to get the first direct witness to either provide visual and audio evidence as it happens, or to have him/her enter that information into a system where it becomes immediately available for consumption. The latter of those two is still a "filtered" method for getting information, but it's still better than having a story told after having gone through massaging by many different "sources" along the way.

adornoe
adornoe

horses, either horseback (Bing) or horse and carriage (Google) (you can reverse those 2 as you wish). Until the "horseless carriage" is invented for internet search, we're stuck with the algorithmic search results.

codepoke
codepoke

Google must filter. That's a given. And your philosophical argument is valid. So, I'm not arguing against filtering, but against a type of filtering that makes the "world-wide" web into a local echo chamber. When I see only the results my friends like, I miss out on a world of thought. Google, by flattering me with my own opinion tenderly echoed back to me in other voices, can increase their popularity, strengthen their brand, and grow incalculably rich. And keep us all in our personal ghettos.