Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Trouble With Google

Ten years ago or whenever it was that Google first appeared in our browsers, it was one of many emerging sites that let us search the internet. However, most of the others followed a "portal" model: they provided news, weather, customizable areas, and lots of ads. Most of us had dial-up and the portals were slow to load. Also, ads and spam were new things back then, and most people were wary of them. (Now we're just weary of them.) Some were utilities you had to install (like Copernicus), but they were clunky to use.

So Google won big and its competitors faded away. The business news said it was because of Google's superior search engine, but I suspect the biggest reason was the nice, sparse interface. When I had dial-up I got in the habit of using as my home page because it was the fastest loading page around, and I still use it as my home page, even though I have the Google toolbar.

But Google has never been as exceptional a search engine as it thinks it is, and some of its recent attempts at improvement have fallen flat. I have given up on Google News (except as a way to get around the Globe & Mail subscription fee). Google Blog (as I recently argued), is a dud.

Furthermore, the paid advertising in Google's results pages are annoying. It's easy to click on one of the first addresses without realizing that it's a sponsored ad. In addition, Google doesn't make any attempt to block the fake sites that pretend to be about your topic, but that are apparently created on the fly based on what you're looking for. Also, I'm having increasing difficulty finding a hotel's web site - I have to wade through hundreds of commercial hotel reservation sites. Overall, Google could navigate the crap-commercial sites a whole lot better.

There are some definite advantages to Clusty (which also has images and news).

My intention here is not to slam google. I still like that spare home page with the occasional little joke built into the typography. I want it to be good. I just want it to be better.


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