Disclaimer – I’m from the great state of Wyoming where we enjoy and defend the right to roam wherever we wish, however we wish, and whenever we wish. I have since moved from Wyoming and experienced life in the more regimented lifestyle of more metropolitan populations but still hold that same predilection for the freedom to roam. Recently, my Wyoming mentality reemerged after having read Josh Dreller’s blog Are You Ready? Why Today’s SERP Will Be Unrecognizable In 5 Years.
Mr. Dreller discusses the movement of search engines from the static indexing of websites to the more dynamic evaluation of which websites to present the inquirer. Search engines are the portal through which all Internet users submitting an inquiry must pass. Every modification, strategy, and philosophy of the big three has a direct impact on all of the players in the virtual world of the Internet – those posting content and those browsing through it. Granted this means that the search engines have a large job to do. Their primary purpose is to index and evaluate the relevancy of all that is on the Internet in such a way as to deliver quality results to one’s search in a timely manner. Throughout the evolution of search they have had to counter and respond to such misleading and distortional practices as link farms, nonsensical content stuffed with keywords, and dishonest meta descriptions that don’t reflect the true content of the visible page. Users have clamored for better search results that only show relevant results. Quality websites also want assurances that deceptive competitors don’t keep them out of the top SERP spots.
However, the suggested evolution of SERP into a more dynamic search rather than a static search has made me ask myself some fundamental questions.
Am I giving up my privacy to a few very powerful search engines for the sake of efficiency?
In order to propose sites to me in a dynamic, personalized fashion then the search engines need to record my every move. In the real world, this would be stalking. In the virtual world this is called a better search engine experience.
John Battelle, founder of Federated Media and author of The Search, recognizes the precarious and potential dangers of so much personal information in the hands of search engines. Gord Hotchkiss, in his blog Five Visionaries Sum Up The Future Of Search asked Mr. Battelle what happens to our privacy in this new search engine paradigm. John Battelle states “I think personal feeds and the consumers’ ability to say, “Sure, you can have my feeds because I’m going to see value from it and I know that we’re in a trusted relationship”… I think that that handshake is going to be increasingly made in our culture.
I think, however, that we need to have a conversation about that handshake and understand it. We’re in the midst of that and it’s going to get more and more interesting over the next decade. I think that the handshake between large services now and what will become a flood of new streams of valuable data from apps, from interactions on other sites and services will allow a Google or a Microsoft to touch and have access to a ton of data about us.”
If I don’t want to be tracked to this degree by the big three but still want to benefit from all that is on the Internet then what are my options? What benefits am I giving up to maintain my privacy? Are the benefits of a personalized search experience worth the “ton of data” about me?
Could the assumptions incorporated by the big three into my inquiries verge on a form of censorship?
Mr. Dreller, in illustrating the role of “master intent” on SERP, explains how one’s earch of a movie title for a film that is yet to hit the theaters will automatically assume that that individual wants to see the trailer and thus show movie trailer links. Such assumptions can work for movies. However, in other more weighty scenarios, search engine assumptions risk censorship in that those assumptions block out potentially valuable websites that don’t fit the engine’s assumptions. One individual, in response to Mr. Dreller’s blog, writes : What if I want my search to bring up items not based upon my own narrow assumptions; results that may surprise, delight or even educate me about other perspectives? Will there be the equivalent of an “antonym” search result list?
Could assumptions suppress the diversity that makes the web so rich? Will their assumptions replicate in the virtual world what is often asked in the real world about whether Hollywood reflects or informs our society? Will their assumptions truly reflect our intentions or will they mold our intentions? Could this turn into a real case of censorship? The potential exists.
I agree wholeheartedly with Battelle’s assertion that a conversation needs to be had about search’s new paradigm. I wonder, at what point does search get too close to stalking, censorship and more? How much do they need to know about us to give us good results? Wouldn’t a well-worded query be sufficient enough to bring up the information we are looking for? Could we be discerning enough on our own to identify what links we want to follow and those that we don’t? If some of these changes are happening because the traditional cataloging of web pages hasn’t been able to completely keep poor quality websites from appearing in the high rankings then the user can add user-rated web apps like WOT to their search engine tools. I would rather see user-generated feedback like the Google +1 button added to their informational data base than some of these more pervasive tactics.
These are just some of my thoughts as seen through the eyes of a Wyoming girl. It will be interesting to see if a conversation is had and where it takes us. Many a conversation in my household ends with somebody summing up their position with the statement “I’m just saying.” To those of you who may read this blog and have your own thoughts, I’d love to hear them! But, in parting, my words to you are “I’m just saying.”