Our Constant Content Concern

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dranoADOTAS – I’d be shocked to meet someone hasn’t been burned by a purchase based on bad online information. A few years ago (no, not in the mid-90s), I used Google to research a PA system and bought a total lemon. The advertised 1,000 watt power amp pushed a pathetic amount of volume through the supposedly high-end speakers — screaming at the top of our lungs, we could barely hear squeaks over our thunderous instrumentation.

After tossing the amp and speakers, I went to Guitar Center and had a lengthy discussion with a salesman who figured out exactly what I needed. How old fashioned! How quaint! But the world of amps and speakers are complicated, and it’s easy to be mislead or misinformed — especially if a price seems too damn good.

I can hear some jokers chortle, “Why did you trust information you found on the Internet?” Why wouldn’t I? This is the age of DIY — go on the Internet, research, purchase… Except searching on the Internet is becoming useless due to a plethora of lousy — or worse, misleading — SEO-gamed content.

The PA debacle came to mind when reading about blogger Paul Kredosky’s trials and tribulations in researching “dishwasher” on Google — he searched, refined, repeat, over and over but got nothing but crap:

“Pages and pages of Google results that are just, for practical purposes, advertisements in the loose guise of articles, original or re-purposed. It hearkens back to the dark days of 1999, before Google arrived, when search had become largely useless, with results completely overwhelmed by spam and info-clutter.”

It seems like I used to be able to just search “dishwasher” on Google and be directed to good consumer review sites. Now I’m more likely to go to Amazon, which typically aggregates a few reviews from noteworthy sources. But more likely, I will ask friends — either through a social network or (gasp) in person.

One of the themes gathering steam in the new year is that Google search is not the Google search it once was. Google originally was the search engine that could cut through the crap, but has it not kept up with the times? Features like Instant and page previews are great additions, but there’s more crap out there than ever clogging the tubes and Google’s drain-o isn’t performing. Has Google been so focused on its other endeavors — particularly trying to catch up with Facebook — that it’s taken its eye off the search ball?

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry on Business Insider says he’s having deja-vu of when Google stole the search rug from under leader Yahoo as it grew bloated and directionless. I remember being a dedicated Yahoo searcher in my youth, until my friends kept nagging that Google was better. One try and I haven’t turned back… Until now, when I’ve started gazing at Blekko…

But it goes beyond search — it’s not just the content farms that are guilty of shoveling out mass quantities of junk content. Many days I feel less a journalist and more like a content engine; my goal is to produce five (or more) news stories a day and frankly it’s nearly impossible to make them all gems.

I come from a magazine and journal background, where’d I’d have a few days at least to research and interview, but I don’t have the time or energy to do that now. It used to be a journalist was expected to file a story a day at most… Somehow content providers have turned into “all filler, no killer.”

How many news stories on tech sites are pretty much “OMG, [insert social network here] is down!]” (Though Twitter’s microblogging will hopefully put an end to junk stories like that… Any day now…) How many times do I read five articles on a blog by a single author that should have only been one story? It’s one of the same things that brought MySpace down — more pages equal more ads.

So how soon until users start giving up on the content portion section of web? Already people spend more time on Facebook than Google. Apart from work-related activity, I’m spending less and less time browsing the net — it feels like bumming around a giant echoplex inundated with terrible writing. Content is becoming more and more just inventory.

Can we trust a search engine to tell us how good or useful content is? Google introduced a filtering system based on reading level — with some interesting results regarding news sites.

However, we do trust our friends more than ever — we look for their advice, their recommendations. Thus is the great potential of social search — Gobry notes that in South Korea, social search engine Naver has 70% of the market share compared to Google’s 2%.

That’s certainly not an omen that social search will take over, but search has been static for too long. It seems 2011 is when things will get all shook up — and hopefully better content will follow.

1 COMMENT

  1. Oops I hit send too fast. I was going to add the following.
    I grew up with card catalogs in libraries. Google has been such a leap forward. I hate to see the results cluttered with crap. I’ll give the google filter a try, or blekko.

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