Google and the decline of Western civilization

The Web is getting dumber by the minute -- and Google is largely to blame. We need smarter search engines, before it's too late.

I've come to the conclusion that the end of civilization as we know it is indeed upon us. And I blame Google.

About time somebody took a torch to those motherfuckers.
Though all search engines are at fault, Google in particular is contributing the most to the dumbing down of the Web, which in turn leads to the dumbing down of everything else. Eventually we'll get so stupid we'll forget how to feed ourselves.

I got to this state of mind after spending a lot of time looking at Google Trends. It gives you an instant snapshot of what Americans are searching for at any one time, distilled into a constantly shifting list of the Top 40. It's both fascinating and deeply distressing.

Fortunately the hotness is only “medium” — we wouldn’t want you to roast your hamhocks.
What do I learn by looking at current Google Trends? That Johnny Depp was named People Magazine's Sexiest Man Alive (once again, I wuz robbed :P). Lowe's Foods is running big specials on Pampers and bacon (hopefully used separately). And Fidel Castro is still not dead, despite what Perez Hilton says.

Here's the No. 1 Google Trend as I type this: nephelococcygia. It's a word made up by Aristophanes 2,400 years ago and it means "cloud cukooland."wes

Really? That's what America desperately wants to know about right now?

Though we have no idea what these things are, we’re not surprised most of the searches occurred in Los Angeles. Still, if they’re really On Fire, we’d recommend a strong dose of penicillin.

As the boys over at eSarcasm noted recently, Google Trends get even weirder. Apparently over the last week, a ton of people searched for heated toilet seats, flaming Care Bears, and parakeets with intestinal disorders. Go figure.

Here's what happens when some search phrase climbs the Google Trends charts: Every Tom, Dick, and Hairball Web site latches onto it, hoping to coast to some easy traffic by writing 200- to 300-word "stories" that are often nothing more than "hey, heated toilet seats are a Google Trending topic, isn't that odd?" Sometimes they're not even that sophisticated. It's all about who can get there first.

What this has to do with the Shuttle, AOL, Hail Mary passes, and Bill O’Reilly totally escapes us. You might as well knock us upside the head with a Ninnyhammer.
Why do they do this? Because it works. Despite the completely brain-dead, worthless waste of pixels that constitutes 99 percent of such posts, Google often rewards them with prime placement -- which translates into traffic, clicks, and money.

Because of that, it's not just the bottom feeders who are doing this. Mainstream sites see that surfing Google Trends works, so they rush to do it too. Some well-respected sites (including, ahem, some InfoWorld sister sites) have been throwing as many bloggers at a trending topic as they can in the hope that at least one of them will crest the Google wave and capture eyeballs.

This may be a reasonable short-term strategy (or possibly just a desperate one), but a series of short articles that essentially repeat the same information from the same sources doesn't exactly make for intelligent discourse.

Because you don’t want to be packing the wrong ammo when a camel sneaks up behind you. How the camels got to New York City, though, remains a mystery.
Here's what makes it worse: Google and the other search engines are about as smart as well-trained Golden Retrievers. They will fetch whatever you tell them to fetch -- but only what you tell them to fetch. So if you want the dog to find a hambone, it will find a hambone. Wrap that bone in a sock or bury it under a pile of leaves, though, and it's like your dog suddenly has no nose. That hambone might just as well not exist.

So if you write a story about a laptop and you want Google to find it, you'd damn well better put "laptop" in the headline, the subline, any boldfaced text, and sprinkle it liberally through every paragraph of the story. The more often you repeat the same phrase, the better the search engines will treat you. If you use notebook, netbook, portable, or any other synonym -- what used to be known as good writing, in the pre-Web days -- Google turns into the Golden Retriever with no nose.

Though we find that copious quantities of vodka also help.
Thus we end up with completely asinine (yet Google friendly) stuff like this:
There's water on the moon.  Yes, you heard me right. Water on the moon was found by scientists. What does water on the moon mean? Will water on the moon really make a difference in our lives? These are the questions I sat out to answer.....
Further more, ice on the moon could give scientists insight in to the creation of our solar system.  Polar ice has given scientists many indications of how the Earth was formed, and ice on the moon could give even more information.

So, to summarize: Water moon ice water moon. Got that?

This "story" comes via, which I could swear used to be an actual news source at one time but now just seems to regurgitate search terms in almost random fashion.

That’s one of those Zen koans we’ve been struggling with for years. And also why we’re on the ASPCA’s terrorist watchlist.
But as for the dead Pakistani on your couch, we suspect the parakeet is involved. 

Couple this disturbing trend with companies like Demand Media, which generates 4,000 Web articles and videos each day based entirely on search term popularity and profitability (see "This blog has NOT been brought to you by an algorithm"), and you end up with a Web that is rapidly filling up with crap.

As more sites struggle to rise above the noise and get traffic, they will resort to these kinds of tactics, publishing less original reporting and more odious regurgitation. Because the regurg is cheaper to produce and makes them more money. Case closed.

The problem, as I've said before, is how search engines work -- or rather, how they don't work. And by "search engines," I really mean Google. We need it to get a lot smarter in a hurry, before we all end up in cloud cuckooland.


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