In their recent announcement, the folks at GoogleTV told us they’d make TV programs easier to find by searching the Internet. Of course this is an absurd idea. And this led me to ponder how little advancement we’ve seen with Internet search in the past decade.
“Abandon all hope, you who enter here” Search reality is complex – and I’m becoming convinced it has to be. A lot of very bright, innovative minds are working hard to make it easier. But they’re not having much luck. Remember all the effort Microsoft put into Bing? It’s doing okay. But every time I’ve used it I’ve found that it doesn’t give me any better results than Google. I don’t blame Microsoft. But I think the experience suggests there’s a bigger problem with making the internet our encyclopedia than anyone’s talking about.
What I find is that when the answers are well established online, then I find them right away. But when they aren’t, I fall off the cliff. And at the bottom of the cliff we find the vast internet wilderness. (If I was more dedicated, maybe I would knock off Dante and create 9 circles of internet hell and populate them with computer industry celebs.)
This has been a week of internet wilderness for what should be simple. I’ve been trying to track down an accurate source for a quote regularly attributed to Winston Churchill. (“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”) It’s a great quote, speaks volumes, and features Churchill’s wry sense of the world.
I’ve been trying to track down it’s source – which you’d think would be easy with an online search. Google and Bing give me page after page of sites listing the quote. But nowhere do I find a source for the quote – neither from quote sites nor businesses using the quote.
So I check Churchill.org and WikiQuotes searching for the quote. Nada – nothing. I’m empty handed. I discover that someone has posted a query on WikiAnswers seeking a source for the quote. The query remains unanswered. Digging even deeper, I go to a specialized quote website and review discussion boards. Nothing so far.
This is where online search reality sets in. Because now I’m concerned that this quote might be invented. There is an amazing uniformity in how the quote appears online (usually quotes get butchered as they’re passed around). And it is perfectly constructed to serve as the introductory quote for a very large number of strategic companies. And strategic companies and consultancies are where the quote is used most frequently.
If these hunches are right, I’m guessing someone took a real Churchill quote and twisted it to fit their strategic needs. This might have been accidental – maybe someone read a true Churchill quote but remembered it incorrectly. They wrote down the great one they remembered and that’s the quote that’s passing so quickly around the internet (memory is a dangerous tool sometimes).
With my search unresolved, where does this leave me? A couple of thoughts…
If something is well established on the internet, it’s easy to find. If it’s not established, then it’s hard to find. Makes sense. But what leads to well established things on the internet? Either a passionate amateur interest or (most often) a business interest. It’s a scary to think that the entries in an encyclopedia would primarily feature information that matches one of these two criteria.
If a fact can’t be found on the internet, does it really exist? When it comes to truth, it’s sad that this insidious idea may be making inroads in our schools, our news organizations, and our world. I posted a note commenting on a blog the other day noting 6 facts from the last decade. A flamer responded that he wouldn’t believe the facts because I didn’t give internet references for them. Yikes.
Let’s hope it’s merely intellectual laziness that confuses an absence of information with accurate definition of truth.
Copyright 2010 – Doug Garnett