I find Techcrunch useful, but I find Michael Arrington annoying. Today he exceeds himself, telling the most successful user experience company on the planet that they’ve got a key plank of their strategy completely wrong. He’s talking about the new Google Wiki Search, which you can find out about here.
Arrington reverts to that staple of the anti-innovation luddite: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It’s a trite statement which doesn’t actually say anything, and he takes it up to 11:
But Google search wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t broken. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s one of the few things on the Internet that isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t. I love it, as does 62% of everyone on the Internet. This new stuff is a mess of arrows and troll comments and stuff moving around the page. That doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t make my search experience more useful. It makes it move to another search engine.
The worst part of the new stuff is you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t turn it off. Once you click Ã¢â‚¬Å“Yes, continueÃ¢â‚¬Â youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re in. And as far as I can tell, you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get back to the good old Google that worked just fine.
First of all, he seems to be wrong. You can turn it off. Second of all, he’s understood nothing about what this represents. He didn’t answer his own question: why did Google mess with search results?
The answer’s in the question. You don’t mess with the most efficient cash-generating piece of HTML on the planet unless it’s very, very important. So we can assume Google thinks this is very, very important. Why might this be? Because it’s an attempt to do something Google knows from its AdSense experience: to harness individual, client-side activities (clicking on a text ad = voting for a high-quality search hit) into something that starts to look a lot like emergent intelligence. By providing something of some utility to individuals (what search results work for me?), Google seeks to build a massive distributed curated search into which we are all adding intelligence without ever being aware of it. It is, I would contend, the Big Thing At Google For 2009.
And in fact Google is being interestingly coy about this. It’s only talking about individual utility, not Big Brain Emergence:
This new feature is an example of how search is becoming increasingly dynamic, giving people tools that make search even more useful to them in their daily lives. We have been testing bits and pieces of SearchWiki for some time through live experiments, and we incorporated much of our learnings into this release. We are constantly striving to improve our users’ search experience, and this is yet another step along the way.
And it’s careful to state that this won’t affect other users’ searches. That statement might get it into trouble down the line, because if this takes off – if millions of people start annotating searches and, more importantly, actively voting for higher-value results – there’s no question it will affect search rankings. Otherwise, what would be the point? I say again – you don’t mess with the Google search results page unless it’s something very big.
If Arrington doesn’t get that, he should stop blogging about technology and relaunch Valleywag.