Google Changes Signal the End of Objective Search


When Google came to prominence 14 years ago it was a breath of fresh air compared with the main search engine at the time – Yahoo! The problem for Yahoo! at that time was that it was subjective. Based on human editors who could not keep up with the pace of the growth of the web, it also meant that if they did not approve a website for some reason, it did not appear on the search results. Searchers were effectively prevented from finding much of what was available online. Google was a “game changer” because it used a mathematical algorithm to find web pages. No longer was there any subjectivity – if your website contained a word, Google would present your website in the list of results when someone searched for that word.

This is why Google became so popular. We could find everything on the web, no matter whether it was good, bad, or indifferent. Whatever you search for, you’ll be presented with all of the web pages which exist for that word – sometimes tens of millions of them…! That’s why we love Google – it finds everything.

Over the years Google has made changes to its algorithm to improve the results we get. A real problem for Google was that because it is based on objective mathematics it means that, in the early days of the search engine, people could influence the results easily. Search phrases were “hijacked” by spammers and “black hat” search marketing specialists. They could get to the top of the list easily using their optimization techniques; meanwhile legitimate and more useful sites were pushed down the search results listings.

Google knew it had to act – otherwise people would desert the search engine in favour of one that presented more useful and more reliable results. After all, people did that once by leaving Yahoo! So, Google introduced quality controls and systems which meant that the poorer content would still be in a search results listing, but relegated to low rankings on the list. The changes meant Google retained its objectivity and presented us with more accurate and useful results.

Now Google is responding to the way the internet is changing by updating its search engine system for the online social world. It is exploiting the value of its own social networking system, Google+. The company has high hopes for Google+, so much so that it has now started to use data from the social network to influence the search results it presents to you.

But that could be a problem for the objectivity of search results. The results you get will no longer be based objectively upon fixed mathematical calculations. Now the results will be influenced by what you and your contacts do on Google+.

According to Google this will help because it will personalise your search results, making them much more relevant to you specifically. But at the same time it could remove from your personalised search results other material which, using objective mathematical analysis, may well have been higher up the list. Now there will be some subjectivity introduced because search results will be influenced by what you do on Google+. And it was subjectivity in search results which Google got rid of all those years ago when it arrived on the search engine scene.

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