Posted On: Thursday - March 30th 2023 5:20PM MST
In Topics:   Internets  Websites  Curmudgeonry
There is such a thing as a search in the real world, but we mean on the internet here. I left that out to keep the title short, as I did, just as importantly, the world "useful". We're talking Peak Useful Internet Search Results, really.
Has this peaked? From my experience it most certainly has. This is the case for searches for non-political, information, while the direct censorship, delisting, unfair ordering, etc. are a whole 'nother story, that's not the subject of this post.
I can remember the very first internet search I ever undertook. It was neither a search for girly pictures or for cat videos. It was a search for "Northwest Territory shirts". Sometime in 1994, I'm pretty sure, I was trying to stock up on well-made flannel shirts from these people and the store (K-Mart or Target) no longer carried them. I didn't expect to buy them on-line and, in fact, couldn't imagine doing that. I just wanted a company phone number or anything to lead me to more shirts. That search was unsuccessful. Not enough information was on the web yet,
As an aside (which I'm pretty sure I wrote about already, but speaking of bad, actually MISSING search programming, I can't find it), I had no idea what was going on with a computer on the internet in those mid-1990s - til about '97. I went to this one hour "Intro. to the Internet" class at the library that confused me even more with talk of "The Archie" and "The Veronica" and "The Gopher". (Thank you, Alarmist.) All they needed to tell me was: "You are using the 'browser' program. It displays the information coming through the modem with special formatting to show this web 'page'. That formatting stuff is called 'HTML'. The search engine is just another website that has some programming which sends another web page back to you." 5 minutes of that sort of thing would have sufficed.
That leads me to another quick digression, one which is also in the footnote of the link above. Search "engine' is the term they use. I hate that. Software people love to appropriate terms that come from the real mechanical/electrical world. It makes them feel like engineers, which is the BIG ONE, that use of "engineering" for what's not. I'll use search "site" or "program" instead of "engine". None of these search sites are "a machine that converts energy into mechanical force or motion.".
That "Archie" thingy, as I just now found out, was one of the very early search engines. I'm sure I around on the internet for stuff after that shirt search, but, without a computer at home, I can only remember any real use of these sites starting in 1998.
By about that time, you had your yahoo's, your alta-vistas, your infoseeks, your lycoses, your excites, your askjeeves (later just ask), and even your dogpiles. Yeah, and I don't know who picked the name of that latter site, and that one gathered info from other search engines. Only 3 of those I was able to write here from recall memory, and my search just now had others that I didn't include because I just don't recognize them now.*
It was really hit-or-miss with the searches then. I felt lucky fo find good results for a page that wasn't on a regularly-used website, say a popular news site. There was also not THAT much on the web in the late 1990s, compared to today. One of the sites I listed above was a cut above the rest though, but when google came along, it all changed. Hate 'em now, sure... definitely, but it was really nice to have a good chance of getting useful results by using google. That's how the company became successful, by giving useful search results.**
We got into the heyday of useful internet searching. The programming behind these sites got more and more sophisticated, and the www has contained a greatly and ever-increasing amount of information on it since the beginning. How would we get to a peak in this searching business though?
On results pages, I find that there is just too chaff now, distracting me from a target that may be on page 17 (which most of us never look at). I see 3 factors:
1) The big sales sites often take up the top spots. This happens not just when I put in a noun for something that's for sale on the web, but even when I put more terms in that make it obvious I'm not looking to buy said thing.
2) Websites that create search-matching blurbs that are bogus. This is the most annoying to me, as, same as with junk mail, I hate being the sucker that clicks there. You put in "Virginia laws about blah" and it'll have just that in the blurb. The site will have some basic information about the laws on "blah" in general, but will not have "Virginia" in it. This blurb will show up with Tennessee in it if your search with "Tennessee laws about blah".
I don't know how these ones work. The web crawler program has got to find both parts on one page, and how does the blurb that you won't find on the site get put into the database as it appears by the search programming? These assholes must have some clever algorithms, but I detest their wasting of my time just as with the clever of the junk mailers.
3) An inordinate amount of information on the web. That should be good, of course. You may very well get 20 blurbs that are pretty close to what you searched for, but you can't find the right extra word(s) to help the programming pull out what you really want. Maybe it's just asking too much, or, I'm not doing it right.
Getting useful results from an internet search has gotten harder over the last few years. When was Peak Search? I say, somewhere in '10 to '15, but you all let me know your ideas on this.
Finally, even with the best and most honest search programming in the world, back in September '18 Peak Stupidity compared Search "Engines" vs. Real Experts, and concluded that sometimes the latter can save us googles of time.
* BTW, the wiki page on older search engines did a terrible job.
** Successful as far as customer usage, that is. As far as google's success as a spy operation, well, I and most customers didn't understand that yet. Many people still don't.