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5/14/2008
11:15 AM
Neil Raden
Neil Raden
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The Search Engine Miracle is Wearing Thin

Search isn't that great anymore. For one thing, it's become so commercial that it's really more like an ad search engine... Why can't I ask a search engine questions and get sent to exactly the places with the answers, not 10,000 hits? Why can't the search engines help me assemble the information I need?

Search isn't that great anymore. For one thing, it's become so commercial that it's really more like an ad search engine. SEO programs game the big ones to the point that you have to go to page 20 before you find something that isn't trying to sell what you're looking for. I want the Scotty Effect for myself (see my previous post). Why can't I ask a search engine questions and get sent to exactly the places with the answers, not 10,000 hits? Why can't the search engines help me assemble the information I need?

Tom Davenport suggests that the competitive playing field for businesses is analytics. I think we'd all be a lot better off if we could do some analytics for ourselves. What do you think? Here are some things I wonder about:Energy:

- An electric car may produce no emissions and require no fossil fuels, but over its lifetime, how much fossil energy does it cost versus a conventional car? The electricity has to be produced and transmitted. How much energy is lost in the various steps of transmission? - When gasoline costs $4.00 at the pump, where does the money go? What are the secondary and tertiary economic effects? For instance, how is the amount broken down between taxes, the retailer, distributor, refinery, crude transportation, exploration and production and all of the other steps? How much of it benefits the economy and how much just enriches owners and investors?

Healthcare:

- What are the resumes of the senior staff of the FDA and the NIH? What percentage came from senior positions in the pharma/biotech industry and/or went to such positions after their tenure?

- What is the real inflationary driver of healthcare? How much has the cost of liability insurance driven both the cost and the practice of medicine? Can we isolate the windfall trial lawyers received over the past few decades and match it to increased inflationary costs? Or is it the cost of expensive precautionary practices by doctors and hospitals to avoid lawsuits?

- What are the real cancer statistics? Five-year survival rates are inflated by early detection. Does early detection actually improve mortality or just dramatically increase and prolong the treatment? Where can I find true mortality statistics to decide if either standard-of-care or aggressive treatments matter? - Can exploding rates of autism and ADHD be correlated with childhood vaccinations?

Education:

- Suppose I want to assemble my own definition of "Best Colleges" by selecting a different set of attributes than the magazines. Suppose I don't care about the size of the endowment or the number of applications they receive?

- How can I correlate spending on primary and secondary education with quality? What percentage of education costs goes to administration and is it reasonable? Is increased spending on classrooms useful or not?

- Suppose I wanted to correlate aspects of education with outcomes I'm interested in, not metrics such as those in the No Child Left behind Program?

Charity:

- Which organizations have the best record for getting their donations to the intended audience?

- Trace the flow of funds between charities, where each one takes a cut but can claim that a high percentage was distributed to the intended recipients

Maybe you're not interested in these things, but surely there are other things you would like to know. How about that perennial favorite, what should I eat to be healthy? I've gotten over my infatuation with the Web. Now I want it to solve real problems for me.Search isn't that great anymore. For one thing, it's become so commercial that it's really more like an ad search engine... Why can't I ask a search engine questions and get sent to exactly the places with the answers, not 10,000 hits? Why can't the search engines help me assemble the information I need?

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