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The Failure Of Search

Seth Jayson at Motley Fool <a href="http://www.fool.com/news/commentary/2006/commentary06060927.htm" target="_blank">claims</a> Google is killing the Internet by making Web spam and click fraud profitable. Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 <a href="http://publishing2.com/2006/06/13/google-is-killing-the-economics-of-content/" target="_blank">contends</a>, "Pay-per-click advertising is destroying the economics of content, making it more profitable to create entire site

Thomas Claburn

June 15, 2006

2 Min Read

Is Google killing the Internet?

Seth Jayson at Motley Fool claims Google is killing the Internet by making Web spam and click fraud profitable. Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 contends, "Pay-per-click advertising is destroying the economics of content, making it more profitable to create entire sites with nothing but ads."

Dave Winer misses the point by arguing (correctly) that at least people are no longer beholden to media gatekeepers to be heard. This says nothing of the issue Jayson and Karp are trying to address: the signal-to-noise ratio online.There is, to be sure, a lot of noise on the Net. There's a lot of bad information, misinformation, disinformation, and noninformation. But that's not because pay-per-click advertising is destroying the economics of content. Pay-per-click has vastly expanded the market for content. There's an overabundance of content.

Search was supposed to solve that problem. It was supposed to find the needle in the haystack. Unfortunately, it just created an incentive to produce hay. After all, it's searching that gets monetized, not finding.

That wouldn't be a problem if search engines could distinguish between hay and a needle, between junk and content. But they can't.

The judge who ruled against Apple's attempt to subpoena information from bloggers wrote, "We can think of no workable test or principle that would distinguish 'legitimate' from 'illegitimate' news." Similarly, there's no workable test that search engines can use to separate authentic content from the simulated variety.

That's why search doesn't work, at least not very well. It's like riding in a taxi driven by someone who barely speaks your language--you may be dropped off someplace other than your intended destination.

Some blame must go to the searchers, who need to learn the language of search. Well-constructed queries make it much easier to find good information.

But Ask, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo all need to redouble their efforts to improve the experience and the technology. Next on the agenda: finding less information that's better.

There's also a good argument for abandoning pay-per-click advertising in favor of the pay-per-action model promoted by Snap.com and now eBay, with its new AdContext network. This would diminish the financial incentive to create junk sites just for clicks. Google may never have the guts to go there because selling clicks is so profitable.

The question is why anyone buys them.

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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