A few weeks ago my house had a septic-tank emergency, which is as awful as it sounds. As unspeakable things began to burble up from my shower drain, I did what any smartphone-dependent person would: I frantically Googled something along the lines of poop coming from shower drain bad what to do. I was met with a slew of cookie-cutter websites, most of which appeared hastily generated and were choked with enough repetitive buzzwords as to be barely readable. Virtually everything I found was unhelpful, so we did the old-fashioned thing and called a professional. The emergency came and went, but I kept thinking about those middling search results—how they typified a zombified internet wasteland.
Like many, I use Google to answer most of the mundane questions that pop up in my day-to-day life. And yet that first page of search results feels like it’s been surfacing fewer satisfying answers lately. I’m not alone; the frustration has become a persistent meme: that Google Search, what many consider an indispensable tool of modern life, is dead or dying. For the past few years, across various forums and social-media platforms, people have been claiming in viral posts that Google’s flagship product is broken. Search google dying on Twitter or Reddit and you can see people grousing about it going back to the mid 2010s. Lately, though, the criticisms have grown louder.
In February, an engineer named Dmitri Brereton wrote a blog post about Google’s search-engine decay, rounding up leading theories for why the product’s “results have gone to shit.” The post quickly shot to the top of tech forums such as Hacker News and was widely shared on Twitter and even prompted a PR response from Google’s Search liaison, Danny Sullivan, refuting one of Brereton’s claims. “You said in the post that quotes don’t give exact matches. They really do. Honest,” Sullivan wrote in a series of tweets.
Brereton’s most intriguing argument for the demise of Google Search was that savvy users of the platform no longer type instinctive keywords into the search bar and hit “Enter.” The best Googlers—the ones looking for actionable or niche information, product reviews, and interesting discussions—know a cheat code to bypass the sea of corporate search results clogging the top third of the screen. “Most of the web has become too inauthentic to trust,” Brereton argued, therefore “we resort to using Google, and appending the word ‘reddit’ to the end of our queries.” Brereton cited Google Trends data that show that people are searching the word reddit on Google more than ever before. [Continue reading…]