The slow death of search

I can’t speak for your experience, but more and more I find search (google in particular) to be far from useful. Very often I try to find various information, and search either leads me away from locations of value, or presents me with content that is unrelated.

Why is this happening? Well there are many factors, but one has to do with nearness, and popularity (a key element in google algorithms). Take your local grocery store. Producers have found that garnering shelf space is the most important factor, as it pushes out competition, while giving the consumer an illusion of choice. And this isn’t just in packaged goods. In my local stores if you want to purchase fresh fruit, the dominant fruit is apples. And this is the illusion of choice. If you go in they show five or six different kinds of apples, taking up a large amount of space, especially in the fall. But can you find a persimmon? What about different kinds of oranges? A plantain? No. So you really have very little choice, very little variety, unless you want apples.

Another (grocery) example is pickles. In the stores in my area there are two brands of pickles that are carried, with many varieties made by those brands. The problem I have with those is neither are very good, regardless of the variety. It looks like you have lots of choices, but in practice you have two not very good choices.

So how does this happen with search? Well, the first problem is that there are many topics that appear to be similar or related, but they are not related. Take Swift and SwiftUI. While most Swift concepts work in SwiftUI, it is not the same the other way around. If you are trying to find solutions for a problem in Swift, getting a SwiftUI answer is not useful. If you are looking for a .Net solution, or C vs C++ vs C#, you have the same problem. Too much content appears to be related when it is not.

Similarly you can have information ‘stolen’ from one site and presented on another. StackOverflow has been a great resource for information, but there are many sites that steal the information and repackage it. This makes search worse because one answer can be popular (but not what you want). It’s worse because the same answer then appears over and over, again making you feel like there are many results, but in practice they are the same wrong answer.

And then you get to probably the worse (I’m keeping the misspelling) case, it simply gives you popular and very unrelated answers. For me I was trying to lookup information on was to use my Mac as a display (for other devices). Apparently there was an issue in 2019 that was very popular. So even though I was looking for something in 2023, and trying to push the search into other solutions, it kept showing me the same 2019 solution on many different websites (you can have the same answer, just in a new font).

I’m sure someone already said “AI can solve this!”. I’ll try hard not to go off the rails on what is AI and is it useful, I’ll simply say lots of things can solve this issue. Recognizing that the existing tools are lacking in many areas, and finding ways to fill those gaps (sure go ahead and use AI) would create a much better user experience.

I’m tired of eating apples.

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