At first I thought it was just me who noticed how poor Google has been lately, but happily some folks from Hacker News confirmed I wasn’t going crazy. Today I had an odd query which got me suitably terrible results.
I was writing an email and wrote as part of my sentence “based on recency”, and Outlook (really Word) underlined it to indicate a spelling error. I felt sure that “recency” was a real word (and as I type this, Firefox keeps insisting it does not exist either), so I ran a Google search for [recency microsoft word misspelled]. Note that I put Microsoft in there to ensure I would get back results that talked about Microsoft Word and not the word recency in general. Anyway, the first result I got back was this:
So not only has it changed my search from recency to Regency, without actually asking me, it also changed the stemming from misspelled to misspellings. I wondered if it would also start dropping terms from my search which drives me crazy, and was one of the original reasons I switched from Altavista to Google. Sure enough, results 6 and 8 were both missing “recency”, the thing I was most interested about.
Yes Google, you do make it easier for people who aren’t savvy, but can you at least give me an account flag to not have you mess with my results? I had at least 7 fantastic years, and my more mundane queries still work fine, but more and more I find myself frustrated. One last example, which I’ve come across a few times. I heard something about a campaign at The University of Queensland called “Bring back the Red Room”, which was the university bar while I was studying there. Wondering if it’d been shut down and what the story was, I ran an appropriate search:
Why is the first link something that doesn’t even mention the Red Room? Neither link provides any useful information to the query at hand. Here’s where it got interesting – when I was typing a new query, [red room], it automatically suggested [red room st lucia]. Clicking on this returned this:
…answering the question about what happened while still in the search results. So why such a difference in results?
The problem is essentially that Google is becoming a tool for people to find destination sites, rather than information. I am guessing that the majority of users of Google actually do find this useful, but it is alienating a core component of the Google faithful, creating a potential opening in the search engine market. I look forward to seeing what might come of it.
Thinking more about it, there is a fine line between a website giving you what you want and telling you what you want.