Google is not optimized to be the best search engine in the world; it is optimized to be the best tool for transforming the currency of intention into shareholder value. This means that its search capabilities only have to be good enough to keep you coming back to Google for search. Considering that Google’s only real competition is Bing, the bar is not very high.
This does leave Google in a unique position. It can subjugate search to advertising efficacy. In other words, Google can optimize for maximum revenue – which is exactly what it does.
Search results on Google are fast, but are they really what you are looking for? If Google revenue was derived directly from search, it would be the best search engine on earth. But Google doesn’t make money from search; it makes money by getting you to click on ads (which you would never need to see if search results gave you exactly what you were searching for). Oh, and if Google were optimized for search (as opposed to advertising revenue), it would go out of business (or have to charge a subscription fee).
Said differently, search is just the best clickbait Google can produce.
The theme of the criticisms Apple has made against Facebook are true of Google too: data collection; advertising model; “you are the product, not the customer”; etc. Rhetorically savaging your opponent is generally a “bad look” in marketing for all kinds of reasons —it substantiates them; it looks desperate and angry and gross; etc.— but savaging Facebook at a time when everyone is doing so lets Tim Cook attack Google implicitly. Whenever he says “companies that sell your data violate your human right to privacy,” the press covers it as him knocking Facebook; readers and the public, however, may recall it when thinking about Google and Android.
Eventually, people wanted to have the whole title of their article show up in the web address. Part of this was just because it looked cool, but some folks had started to suspect that having those words in the address might help a blog post rank higher on Google. (Google was still a smaller player in the overall web search market at the time, but it was already by far the most popular search engine amongst internet geeks.)
But here’s the thing: web addresses can’t have spaces in them. To include a full title with spaces in a web address for a blog, the spaces would either have to be removed (ugly!) or converted into something equivalent. Since we were one of the first to encounter this issue, our team designed to have our content management system use underscores, based on the rationale that underscores were the character that most closely resembled a blank space.
The end result? Anybody who used our tools could write a a blog post entitled “My Great Cookie Recipe” and it would live at an address that looked like example.com/2005/04/my_great_cookie_recipe.html. By contrast, the WordPress team thought that hyphens looked better, so blog posts published on their tool would look more like example.com/2005/04/my-great-cookie-recipe. Sure, these different tools made slightly different choices about which character to use, but such a subtle distinction couldn’t be meaningful, right?
As it would turn out, we’d stumbled across a harbinger of how the entire web was about to change.
How hyphens vs. underscores kickstarted the race to optimise for, and game the systems of, the web’s biggest players.
Ten years of Google Maps, from Slashdot to Ground Truth. “On the occasion of this 10th anniversary, Re/code spoke with the people who were there at the beginning, and brought back their stories of how something that now seems so fundamental came to be.”
Calendars, timelines, and collages: mapping the imaginary. “I got curious about the other visual aids that novelists create to manage their books, so I asked around and gathered a variety of notebook pages, diagrams, and timelines.”
Death to typewriters. “You see, I blame typewriters for double-handedly setting typography back by centuries. Type before typewriters was a beautiful world filled with hard-earned nuance and richness, a universe of tradition and craftsmanship where letters and their arrangement could tell as many stories as the words and passages they portrayed.“
I’m Brianna Wu, and I’m risking my life standing up to Gamergate. “This weekend, a man wearing a skull mask posted a video on YouTube outlining his plans to murder me. I know his real name. I documented it and sent it to law enforcement, praying something is finally done. I have received these death threats and 43 others in the last five months.”
Our hole in the wall: an oral history of the CBGB scene. “This was a place for ugly kids to go. It wasn’t the beautiful people; it was the dirty people.”
Jupiter Ascending (2015). Last night I fell asleep in the cinema for the first time in my life. It really is that bad.