Editorial—Water, Water Everywhere

A massive hole in a major watermain in Calgary has those of us in this city all under a water advisory, with a warning that the whole city may be under a boil water order shortly, and repairs not expected for several days at the very least.  It serves to drive home just how dependant so many of us are on infrastructure we never even think of.

For us at AU, that infrastructure is the internet. And while the internet was designed to resist failure, that’s just in its general application.  These days, however, so much of its use is concentrated into some very specific areas.  Google has essentially become the gatekeeper of the internet, so much so that when it changes its algorithm for what it displays first, some businesses have to downsize.

What’s worse, however, is that, unlike the water main in Calgary, Google can decide just how broken it wants to be toward different sites.   And there’s now some supposition that those sites who pay Google get more favorable treatment not just in the form of advertisements, but in the algorithms used to decide which search results appear first and foremost.  The water main doesn’t play favorites, at least.

And the way Google is acting is actually worse than the watermain, not the least of which is because most people don’t realize that it’s actually failing.  For people, the point of Google is to provide results that are helpful to people.  For Google, however the point is simply to generate revenue.  If a good search engine can do that by drawing people in to see their advertisements, great.  If a bad search engine can do that better by threatening businesses that don’t pay them, well that’s even better.

Of course, as always, the problem boils down to us. We’ve taken the easy way out once again.  After all, there are other search engines out there.  Microsoft’s Bing is waving frantically as I write this, for example.  And did you know that Yahoo search is still a thing?  More importantly, did you know that, for some searches at least, it works way better than Google does?  For instance, that link above came from the fifth or sixth search I did on Google, adjusting various parameters, and going through several pages of results because I remembered reading a story somewhat like it a few weeks ago.  It was also pretty much the only story I could find that even hinted about this happening other than a random post on the google support forums.  On Yahoo? The exact same search gave me five different stories on the topic, all on the front page, including the actual story that I remembered in the first place.  Which, I should point out, isn’t from some fly-by-night organization, but rather by the BBC.

Google could not (or would not) provide a link to a BBC article about the very thing I was asking about.  This suggests one of two possibilities. The first is that the search engine that most of the world uses, the name of which has become synonymous with searching, simply isn’t very good.  That’s disturbing enough.  The other possibility, however, is worse.  It’s that Google is actively hiding things which the company has decided is not in their best interests, meaning that for most of the world, they don’t exist.

And if you’re not paying Google, well, you’re probably not in their best interests.

Enjoy the read.