Tuesday, August 29, 2023

"The end of the Googleverse" (GOOG)

 From The Verge, August 28:

For two decades, Google Search was the invisible force that determined the ebb and flow of online content. Now, for the first time, its cultural relevance is in question.

The first thing ever searched on Google was the name Gerhard Casper, a former Stanford president. As the story goes, in 1998, Larry Page and Sergey Brin demoed Google for computer scientist John Hennessy. They searched Casper’s name on both AltaVista and Google. The former pulled up results for Casper the Friendly Ghost; the latter pulled up information on Gerhard Casper the person.

What made Google’s results different from AltaVista’s was its algorithm, PageRank, which organized results based on the amount of links between pages. In fact, the site’s original name, BackRub, was a reference to the backlinks it was using to rank results. If your site was linked to by other authoritative sites, it would place higher in the list than some random blog that no one was citing.

Google officially went online later in 1998. It quickly became so inseparable from both the way we use the internet and, eventually, culture itself, that we almost lack the language to describe what Google’s impact over the last 25 years has actually been. It’s like asking a fish to explain what the ocean is. And yet, all around us are signs that the era of “peak Google” is ending or, possibly, already over.

There is a growing chorus of complaints that Google is not as accurate, as competent, as dedicated to search as it once was. The rise of massive closed algorithmic social networks like Meta’s Facebook and Instagram began eating the web in the 2010s. More recently, there’s been a shift to entertainment-based video feeds like TikTok — which is now being used as a primary search engine by a new generation of internet users. 

For two decades, Google Search was the largely invisible force that determined the ebb and flow of online content. Now, for the first time since Google’s launch, a world without it at the center actually seems possible. We’re clearly at the end of one era and at the threshold of another. But to understand where we’re headed, we have to look back at how it all started.

If you’re looking for the moment Google truly crossed over into the zeitgeist, it was likely around 2001. In February 2000, Jennifer Lopez wore her iconic green Versace dress to the Grammys, which former Google CEO Eric Schmidt would later say searches for inspired how Google Image Search functioned when it launched in summer 2001. That year was also the moment when users began to realize that Google was important enough to hijack. 

The term “Google bombing” was first coined by Adam Mathes, now a product manager at Google, who first described the concept in April 2001 while writing for the site Uber.nu. Mathes successfully used the backlinks that fueled PageRank to make the search term “talentless hack” bring up his friend’s website. Mathes did not respond to a request for comment.

A humor site called Hugedisk.com, however, successfully pulled it off first in January 2001. A writer for the site, interviewed under the pseudonym Michael Hugedisk, told Wired in 2007 that their three-person team linked to a webpage selling pro-George W. Bush merchandise and was able to make it the top result on Google if you searched “dumb motherfucker.”

“One of the other guys who ran the site got a cease and desist letter from the bombed George Bush site’s lawyers. We chickened out and pulled down the link, but we got a lot of press,” Hugedisk recounted.

“It’s difficult to see which factors contribute to this result, though. It has to do with Google’s ranking algorithm,” a Google spokesperson said of the stunt at the time, calling the search results “an anomaly.”

But it wasn’t an anomaly. In fact, there’s a way of viewing the company’s 25-year history as an ongoing battle against users who want to manipulate what PageRank surfaces....



"AI is killing the old web, and the new web struggles to be born"
Entropy, lowest common denominator, whatever we want to call it, that's where we're going.

FCC Commissioner Newton Minnow (see also S.S. Minnow) famously called television a "vast wasteland" but he didn't know the half of it, dying in May he didn't get to see A.I. generated content on the internet.
Big Business: "‘The rest of the ad industry is playing a loser’s game’"
Worldwide advertising revenues are closing in on $600 billion with Google alone raking in $58.14 billion for the quarter reported on July 25. Big business.
"Leaked Yandex Code Breaks Open the Creepy Black Box of Online Advertising"
I'll use Yandex to find something that Google has relegated to page 50 or 100 which, of course, they no longer show you.

So it seemed natural to mentally substitute "Google" for each occurrence of "Yandex" and then multiply the yuck factor by 20 to account for the GOOG's much greater reach and far more sophisticated technology. And then multiply by another order of magnitude to account for the company getting rid of the "Don't be evil" motto in 2015. Yikes!