2007-04-22: imagine there's no google

How would you find information if Google was down for a day? What if it was just gone?

"Google? Gone?" you say, "that's crazy talk, it's impossible!"

But it's not impossible. Google will only retain its market dominance until something better comes along. After that, it will be remembered but never used any more. Just ask Altavista, Lycos, or any other pre-Google search engine.

Now I don't for a moment wish bad things on Google, I just think people should be a little more aware of the fact they use Google without thinking. How else could "Google" become a verb?

Google has achieved ubiquity. Good for them! But is it good for us?

there can be...well lots, actually

Google is a brilliant general search engine, but it's not the only one out there. In fact, brute force searching isn't even the only way to look for information. In some cases, it's probably counter-productive.

Why counter productive? Well for a start people don't search widely. They just hit the first few results on Google and go with the first answer they find. Too bad if it's wrong, or there's relevant information that wasn't obvious from the first page of search results. So many people are getting bad information because they've developed bad search habits. Google's "I feel lucky" button probably didn't help!

You also have to consider that with systems like PageRank you're not necessarily getting accurate information. Millions of people linking to something doesn't mean that it's the best information, it just means it's popular.

You have to ask yourself, do I actually want the masses to filter information for me? What if I'd just prefer to know what my peers think? After all, I know and trust my peers (and their opinion).

trust and information retrieval

You do need to trust the people delivering search results and the people who influence those results. I don't actually know the people at Google so I have no real basis to trust them. I definitely don't know the masses of people whose links are indexed by the Googlebot. So, search in general does not score well on trust - I can only assume I can trust Google, which is a pretty thin level of trust for such a critical tool.

However, I do trust friends and colleagues... and the cool thing is that many of them use social bookmarking systems like del.ico.us and ma.gnolia. So I can actually search the links which they designate "Good Links". I can tap into the tribal hive mind.

besides that...

Besides questions of trust, accuracy or information gatekeeping... I just think people should ask the question: "why do I always use Google?".

I think that people should be reminded to question things, pure and simple. It's probably a hangover from my philosophy degree. Everyone should prove that they don't exist at least once ;)

I'm not saying you can't continue using Google - frankly I know we all will! But we should do so with the awareness that we are trusting a single pathway to information. We are putting all our eggs into the one proverbial basket.

a day without google

So why not try going a whole day without using Google. Where would you start?

  • Maybe you know a search engine or two off the top of your head (no Googling for search engines, you at the back). Try Teoma, Ask, etc.
  • Maybe you'd hit Technorati and search tagged info.
  • Maybe you'd hit a major single resource like Wikipedia.
  • Maybe you'd search Technorati and Wikipedia for search engines.
  • Maybe you'd hit del.ico.us or ma.gnolia and go the social bookmarks method.
  • Maybe you'd hit email, IM or Twitter and ask your friends for recommendations.
  • Maybe some people would be really freaky and go to the library. Before the web, there were Libraries; before Google there were librarians...

We don't actually need Google. We're just really used to it. It's good at what it does, but it's not the only one nor is it the only way to access data. Every once in a while, we should try some of the other ways. It's not good to be totally reliant on a single source or pathway to information.

There's every chance that one day, Google will fall. One day, it might not even be there. Stranger things have happened.

Until then, we can gleefully google to our hearts' content... but we shouldn't do it out of ignorance.

2007-04-05: gettin' naked

It's CSS Naked day... basically a worldwide nudie run for websites! The idea is to show off the underlying structure of the page. This is what you see if you're, say, blind; using a mobile without CSS support; using a text browser or have CSS/images disabled; or if you're the Google bot.

For more info check out the Annual CSS Naked Day website.

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