Are Google’s Glory Days Over?

Colin Myers discusses the rise of the British Q&A service called AQA, and complains about all the junk you find with Google.

The internet's "search business" has had saturation coverage in the last couple of years, typically in hyperbolic terms. The subtitle of one recent book suggests that the company "rewrote the rules of business and transformed our culture" – that's a book that Google liked so much, it bought hundreds of copies for its staff. But very little of the coverage has highlighted the philosophical and practical flaws of the web search business.

AQA's researchers don't use Google (or Wikipedia, which we'll come to). And internet search is a business that may already have seen its best days, Myers suggests.

There are several reasons to support this view, and in some cases they're interrelated. One is that Google is finding it increasingly difficult to maintain its index. It's ignored the second law of thermodynamics.

It's an interesting thing to say because there aren't many Google dissenters around these days.

He goes on to talk about the idea of getting everything for free, and I have to admit I like what he says.

As Google's fate is increasingly linked to amateur or highly dubious content like Wikipedia – and the many sites who mirror or scrape its content – the contrast between high quality research and low quality web search seems ever more apparent. The popular fetishisation of amateur web material is a peculiar belief as it needs to suppose that paid information doesn't exist, and isn't better. Nonetheless, aren't we seeing the emergence of two worlds of information – one low grade, amateur, and beset by entropy: the open web – and the other of high quality? Of course those of us with membership cards are laughing all the way to our libraries' expensive database collections – and we can afford to pay for quality.

"I am doubtful that community based systems will be the basis of sustainable solutions. I suspect that a commercial imperative is necessary. It's the same with all these volunteer systems, they're idealistic, but no one comes up with a way of paying people."

The idea behind "free" and the web is that nothing is really free, you just pay with attention (to advertising) instead of cash. But it ignores the fact that low barriers to entry on the web make free sites expand at a ridiculously fast rate, while the amount of attention is fixed per individual, and as a market attention capacity only grows as fast as the population. At some point, it all breaks down as clamoring for attention becomes more important than providing quality products or services.

Society is only beginning the transition into all this collectivist business nonsense (yes, I know I was guilty of it too), so we still have a way to go before people realize the value of expertise and the flight to quality begins. The web has its fads, just like everything else. But back to Google…my prediction is that someday they will offer a premium service that has no ads, a nice junk site filter, and will charge a monthly fee.

UPDATE: One point of clarification. I am not pro-expert, because experts can be yahoos just like anyone else. I am pro-expertise. I think expertise is not something found in the aggregation of lots of non-expertise, or even small bits and pieces of niche expertise (because it ignores the context of each piece).