Dirk Knemeyer

Why I don’t use Google to “Google” anymore

Today it hit me that I rarely use search engines to find information anymore. The specific example is a little embarrassing: I was looking over the days’ headlines and read, “No ‘Secret’: CBS cans show after one episode” next to a picture of former Star Trek actor George Takei. This jogged my memory about a commercial I had seen for a painful-looking and forgettable new TV show about low-level celebrities “showcasing” their hidden, unexpected skills in an American Idol-type setting. I had zero interest in watching the show but the fact it was canceled immediately pulled my “morbid curiosity” string and caused me to click in and read the article. There wasn’t much to it, just spelling out the planned format with some granularity, reiterate that it was canceled, and briefly lamenting that Danny Bonaduce would not get to display his secret skills since he was scheduled to be on the second episode. Immediately I asked myself, “I wonder who won the only episode of this train wreck?” The article didn’t tell me. Once upon a time, I would have then Googled the name of the show. But as time goes by I’ve learned that going to Google for such things will not necessarily answer my very explicit question. So, I went to Wikipedia and searched the name of the show instead.

Why Wikipedia? I’ve learned from past researching of TV-related things that they have pages for every show I’ve tried to research and tremendously granular information about them. They additionally are assiduous in listing the weekly and overall winners in reality shows, and generally provide a nice overview of what is going on. I knew that their page for this show would answer my question, and I was right. Indeed, not only did it outline why there wasn’t a winner and why (it is a multi-week competition and voting had not concluded) but it had a lot of other information and was even updated with the show’s cancellation status, updated approximately as quickly as the news site that started my journey in the first place.

And as I thought about it, that I went to Wikipedia as opposed to Google, it struck me that Google is quickly being displaced in my life. Here are some other examples from just the last few days, but which speak to a trend that reflects usage behaviours that cannot, long-term, be good for Google:

– When someone mentioned the title of an interesting new video game to me, I went directly to www.metacritic.com to research it, not Google

– When I needed to buy some rather diverse things, I went straight to www.amazon.com to find and purchase them. (periodically, I will then use a Google search as a price check against Amazon, but Amazon is so frequently either the lowest or comparable to the lowest I am starting not to do that anymore)

– When I wanted to research the movies of Akira Kurosawa, I went to www.imdb.com

– When I wanted to look into the music of a new band I heard on the radio, I opened up iTunes

– The only thing at this point that I still regularly use Google for is researching people. And, frankly, once I find either their blog or their LinkedIn page (I don’t start with LinkedIn because too many people still don’t use it, even though most of the people in my industry do), I’m done with Google vis a vis learning about that person. Unless I can’t find a picture online, in which case I’ll run a search thru images.google.com

This must be troubling for Google. After all, it reflects the fact that there are a number of increasingly solid, complete, “go-to” resources for different topics and uses. And once you have those destinations figured out, you no longer need to “search” in the vast blue ocean of the Interwebs to find what you’re looking for. Rather, you go to the trusted source that you are comfortable with and know how to use.

Sure, for people who are less sophisticated computer users, or who don’t use the web as ubiquitously as I do, it might be years before these sort of “safe haven” sites of information are discovered and routinized into their use and behaviour. But in a world that is becoming increasingly digital, as the elderly Luddites are slowly passing on and being replaced by babies whose parents put iPhone’s in their hands with stars in their eyes, future users will be even more sophisticated and proficient than I am. What will the function of Google be then?

Listen: Google is mega-rich company, and they are pursuing many different avenues of diversification and growth. So I’m hardly worried about their business viability or share price (yes, I am a stockholder!). But, the essential Google product – the search engine – suddenly seems to me a very terminal thing. Rather than being the first place people go to find things, it seems destined to become a niche tool that fills in the cracks where strong services don’t already exist, or the rare time the standard services don’t provide what someone is looking for. It raises the interesting question of how the web will function in five years. Reflecting on my changing online behaviour I suspect it will be quite different than it is today. I just haven’t thought enough about the operating dynamics of that paradigm change yet so as to suggest a thesis of my own. Either way, I’m looking forward to it.

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