Quality Search Results: From Pink Slime To Correctly Diagnosing Appendicitis

from the it's-not-all-pink-slime dept

We recently wrote about a bizarre attack on Google from copyright propagandists The Copyright Alliance, claiming that Google wanted to turn all information into "pink slime" where "distinguishing value from muck" was not allowed. We pointed out how ridiculous that is, as the entire role of a search engine is to do exactly that -- to distinguish value from the muck. It's why your search rank is so important. I was thinking of this today, as I read about Jeff Jarvis' experience using "Doctor Google" to self-diagnose the fact that his appendix was bursting. He notes that all the talk from people about how searching Google for medical info led you down dangerous pathways had him nervous enough that he didn't want to believe what he was seeing -- but, in actuality, Google led him to credible (and correct) info:

I woke up with a new pain on my right side about an inch down and three inches over from the navel. Given who I am — chronic hypochondriac and a certified Google fan boy — I searched Google for appendicitis.

By reputation, Google — and the internet — should have returned bogus, dangerous, uninformed, unauthoritative advice from cults, and witch doctors, and Demand Media. But it didn’t. It gave me the NIH, WedMD, the Mayo Clinic, (yes) Wikipedia, and other good and trustworthy sources. It gave me more than enough good information to check and cross-check and then diagnose my new pain correctly.

Yes, rather than promoting "the muck," Google properly returned the valued sites. And, of course, that's exactly what Google wants to do. So I started thinking -- why is it that the folks at the Copyright Alliance are so confused about Google (other than the obvious answer that they've never used a search engine)? And I think I know what the problem is. They think that Google is supposed to serve up the links that are most valuable to the Copyright Alliance, not the links that are most valuable to the actual users of the service. That's a very different thing.

More specifically, when people using Google search for "free movies" or "free music," the folks at the Copyright Alliance get upset that Google actually sends them to what they want, believing that, instead, Google should send them not to free movies or free music -- but rather to a site to pay for those things. Of course, if the users were looking to pay for those things, then I'm sure Google would accommodate. But to assume that someone looking for free stuff is magically going to buy because Google doesn't send them to what they want sure sounds like wishful thinking.

The issue is not about "pink slime" or Google's inability to distinguish value from the muck. It's very much about actually responding to what users want. The problem is that the folks who generously fund the Copyright Alliance don't like giving users what they want. They prefer the old way that things were done, when they could control and limit the release of content and they could focus on being gatekeepers and artificially jacking up the price on things -- leading them to inflate (in their own minds) the true value of something, as well as the corresponding price (not the same thing, of course).

However, if they were to adapt, and recognize the opportunities the internet provides, they could embrace it by providing what consumers want. At that point, it seems clear that Google would also point many people in their direction... if only they served the users' best interests too.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    Angel (profile), Jul 5th, 2012 @ 5:26am

    A few years ago, my leg got all itchy & inflamed and not having insurance at the time I wasn't too keen on running off to the doctors. So I googled my symptoms and found out I had cellulitis. It's a good thing too because if it goes untreated it can be quite deadly. After finding out the problem the hubby took me to the E.R. where it was treated & I was given a prescription for some salve & antibiotics. It healed up fine. If it hadn't been for google I would not have known what I had and it could have ended very badly.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    icon
    Josef Anvil (profile), Jul 5th, 2012 @ 5:26am

    I don't get it

    The web is basically the "pink slime" that the CA describes. How exactly does the CA expect anyone to find what they are looking for without a search engine? I suspect they want us to memorize the sites that they advertize through old media (broadcast and print).

    On a related note, we hear a lot of the old guard complaining about Google and yet embracing Microsoft, as if Bing doesn't do the same thing.

    Why all the whining about Google getting paid for selling ads? It just sounds like jealousy about a company that made a business model out of "free".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 5th, 2012 @ 5:26am

    "They think that Google is supposed to serve up the links that are most valuable to the Copyright Alliance, not the links that are most valuable to the actual users of the service"

    In other words the Copyright Alliance are the muck

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Preemie Maboroshi, Jul 5th, 2012 @ 5:37am

    why pink slime?

    I agree about Google being good at putting the more valuable search results at the top of the list. And Google seems to get better at it all the time.

    The main times I have trouble are when I'm searching for something where there isn't much info out there anyway -- and (more likely!) when my own search terms are misinformed!

    I usually hear music first for free somewhere, usually on YouTube. But if I like something enough to listen to it a lot on YouTube, I'll generally go buy it somewhere.

    I believe in copyrighting -- but not in the sense of it being a price-fixer. I think that would be abuse, not use.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    icon
    DannyB (profile), Jul 5th, 2012 @ 5:46am

    Try using Bing instead

    If you want 'pink slime' search results that are self serving for the search engine rather than useful to the end user, then try Bing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    abc gum, Jul 5th, 2012 @ 5:52am

    In this case it is the The Copyright Alliance that is slime.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    icon
    Seegras (profile), Jul 5th, 2012 @ 5:59am

    Search Quality

    Well, I think googles search quality is somewhat a mixed bag. For hard technical information, it's quite good.

    However, if you're looking for something a bit older, it gets quite swamped over with newer things, _even_ if the older thing is an exact match, whereas the newer one isn't. Same with sources (like in "primary sources"): You get loads of chaff: reviews, citations and bibliography instead of the original text, even tough the original would be available as well.

    Some of that chaff is to blame upon the press: They happily tell you about something, without linking to the original. They rather link to some other article, without mentioning that the scientists who made the discovery _also_ have a webpage where the thing is discussed in detail. Typical "A study by ... found that..." Well, turns out the bloody study is online too, just the journalists didn't bother linking to it (and probably didn't read it either), and the whole of googles frontpage is full of press-homepages which all cite and link to each other, but none of it bothers linking to the study.

    And then of course, is the inevitable tendency of people to call their new things after old things. If I'm looking for armour, I'm looking for armour, and not for "tanks" and other "armoured vehicles", which some moron decided might also be called "armour". Oh well. Can't blame google for that, tough.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Colin, Jul 5th, 2012 @ 6:11am

    Psh. Burst appendix? So what. When the story is instead about something clearly more pressing, like free music, then we'll talk.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 5th, 2012 @ 6:18am

    Youtube: Google voice search vs Siri

    Google copied Siri and did it better, it is faster, with a more natural voice and accurate results, behind only on the presentation of the data.

    The speaks about innovation, but it also says something about why Google is the first on the ad revenue front, they deliver the things people want, they don't see the value in selling out and get beaten down the road by the competitors.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Jul 5th, 2012 @ 6:22am

    The copyright alliance wants Google to server up their pink slime instead of what people are searching for. Here is the kicker, they want the advertising at no cost to them. Their sense of entitlement is insane. Everyone else has to pay to advertise on Google.

    Why don't they just pay to be on the top of Google's rankings? It would cost far less than buying politicians, trying to bully Google, and filing lawsuits. If RIAA had taken the $100 million USD they got from the Limewire case, and advertised on Google instead of lobbying for SOPA. They would have had around 50 billion page views.

    So much for logical thought from these people.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 5th, 2012 @ 6:28am

    Why wait?

    He had an unusual pain, his web searches returned worrying results... and he bloody WAITED before going to the hospital! He should have gone to the hospital sooner, if it was nothing he would have wasted only a little time. Better be safe than sorry.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    icon
    Keii (profile), Jul 5th, 2012 @ 6:40am

    Re: Search Quality

    I agree. It's frustrating looking for things from the past with Google.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    icon
    Keii (profile), Jul 5th, 2012 @ 6:41am

    Re: Re: Search Quality

    Not that I don't believe the other things you said are accurate, they just don't relate to me.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    icon
    Josef Anvil (profile), Jul 5th, 2012 @ 6:52am

    Re:

    "Why don't they just pay to be on the top of Google's rankings?"

    Because, like it or not, people can read. If I search for free music or movies, I don't really care if the top paid results appear at the top. I just scroll down to what I want.

    I do agree that their sense of entitlement about not paying for ads is insane. I guess that happens when you are used to just collecting money for decades and then wake up one morning and have to work for it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    abc gum, Jul 5th, 2012 @ 6:57am

    Re:

    Copied?

    You may need some sort of disambiguation for this claim, or a reference would be even better.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 5th, 2012 @ 7:00am

    "why is it that the folks at the Copyright Alliance are so confused about Google (other than the obvious answer that they've never used a search engine)? And I think I know what the problem is. They think that Google is supposed to serve up the links that are most valuable to the Copyright Alliance, not the links that are most valuable to the actual users of the service. That's a very different thing. "

    No, the later is the most obvious answer. Self interest is usually the most obvious answer, the copy'right' alliance is only self interested and Google isn't acting in their sole interests so the alliance is upset. duh.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 5th, 2012 @ 7:00am

    "why is it that the folks at the Copyright Alliance are so confused about Google (other than the obvious answer that they've never used a search engine)? And I think I know what the problem is. They think that Google is supposed to serve up the links that are most valuable to the Copyright Alliance, not the links that are most valuable to the actual users of the service. That's a very different thing. "

    No, the later is the most obvious answer. Self interest is usually the most obvious answer, the copy'right' alliance is only self interested and Google isn't acting in their sole interests so the alliance is upset. duh.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 5th, 2012 @ 7:08am

    Re: Search Quality

    You make some good points and this is probably an area where Google has room to improve. Yes, Google does have a feature where you can select a date range but it's not really that helpful.

    Perhaps Google could have a date emulation feature where you can select search results to be what they would have been x years ago (or find web pages older than x years, though that won't really be nearly as helpful).

    I guess part of the problem hinges on the fact that web pages can change. The timestamps and updatestamps on the page that Google references can also change and so it's kinda difficult for Google to emulate such a feature perfectly but they could maybe approximate it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    icon
    PaulT (profile), Jul 5th, 2012 @ 7:10am

    Re: Search Quality

    "Some of that chaff is to blame upon the press"

    Most of it, I'd say. If high ranked media pages link solely to other high ranked media pages instead of the primary source, then an algorithm isn't going to be able to magically tell you that the obscure scientific resource institute's page is what you're really looking for.

    This is part of the reason why you need to apply critical thinking skills to the results returned, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's the same with technical information to be honest - e.g. search for an error message and you may well get reams of forum articles suggesting fixed before you get to the developer's official fix. Google provide a lot of functions to refine your search if you need to, though, so it's usually nothing more than a minor inconvenience caused by certain sites' SEO skills rather than Google's failings.

    "the whole of googles frontpage is full of press-homepages"

    Erm, explain? Google's home page is a box you can search in, until you're asked it to search for something...

    "If I'm looking for armour, I'm looking for armour"

    Then, refine your search terms to tell Google that's what you're looking for. It's not Google's fault if you just search for "armour" and it returns the most popular type of armour instead of the type you were looking for.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 5th, 2012 @ 7:27am

    Re:

    IP extremists have gotten so used to having the government work in their sole interests and having the government wrongfully granting them broadcasting and cableco monopolies for them to use in their sole interests so that they can wrongfully abuse these monopolies to ensure that all content that people receive is monopolized by them that they just aren't able to cope with the competition of having someone make competing content available to consumers. These thugs wrongfully get a government established monopoly on both content and distribution and they wrongfully get the exclusive privilege to broadcast advertisements/commercial content over these information distribution channels. That needs to change.

    All information distributed over government established monopoly broadcasting and cableco distribution channels should conform to two basic rules.

    A: No commercials/advertisement. You want to advertise, you must do it on a level playing field using information distribution channels that everyone has equal access to.

    B: Only public domain or permissibly licensed content. Any content distributed over info distro channels that are subject to government established monopolies should be free for anyone to freely copy, remix, and redistribute as they please for whatever purposes they want.

    Features like GPS, weather, time of day, emergency broadcasting and the broadcasting of general news, cell phone allocations (where the signal is encrypted), being broadcasted over such govt. monopolized spectra all fit these categories fairly well (cell phone maybe not as perfectly, but close enough). Many cities like to have their own local stations and I don't mind the govt. allocating monopolized frequencies for that so long as they meet these two requirements.

    If you want to advertise do it over broadcasting frequencies or cableco infrastructure that everyone can equally do so on. Do it on a level playing field, not on a government established unlevel playing field. Most broadcasting frequencies should be freely available for everyone to use, I don't mind the government allocating some frequencies for short range use (ie: short range walkie talkies, short range Wifi, short range wireless microphones, short range cordless phones, etc...) and allocating certain frequencies for long range use and requiring devices to conform to certain standards. But most spectra should have no licensing requirements and those that do must all meet the above two requirements.

    We've basically spoiled these spoiled brats and now that they have to compete with others they are crying about it.

    The solution is for us to stop spoiling them. They need to stop stealing from the public and be forced to compete in a free market. We need to abolish their government established broadcasting and cableco monopolies and provide everyone else with a more level playing field. Make these govt. established monopolists work for a living instead of getting rich for contributing nothing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 5th, 2012 @ 7:28am

    Re: Re:

    and we need to do away with govt. established cableco monopolies period.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 5th, 2012 @ 7:29am

    Re: Re:

    You want to advertise, you must do it on a level playing field using information distribution channels that everyone has equal access to advertise on *

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 5th, 2012 @ 7:39am

    Re: Re: Re:

    To advertise and broadcast on *

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    icon
    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Jul 5th, 2012 @ 8:20am

    Re: Why wait?

    When you don't have health insurance you try to distinguish appendicitis from bad tacos the night before. Saves a hell of a lot of money and time for you and the hospital.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    icon
    Seegras (profile), Jul 5th, 2012 @ 8:22am

    Re: Search Quality

    "the whole of googles frontpage is full of press-homepages"

    Of course, I meant _after_ you've been searching for something. As you said, high ranking media pages linking to other high ranking media pages..

    The "armour" thing. That was just some example. Of course I'm not going to search just for that alone.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    icon
    The eejit (profile), Jul 5th, 2012 @ 8:36am

    Re: Re:

    You can't possibly disambiguate a point on a line (or a point of a line)! That's patented!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 5th, 2012 @ 9:04am

    The mistake is that it's artificially culling search results to give the users what they THINK the user wants, not what they actually wants.

    It truly sucks for a punk band like Pink Slime, as they no longer rank in the SERPs.

    Personalized search is a near meaningless echo of your past failures to find things.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    icon
    PaulT (profile), Jul 5th, 2012 @ 9:32am

    Re: Re: Search Quality

    Fair enough, I was just checking... In my experience, if a lot of irrelevant or populist sites appear instead of the thing I'm looking for, I just ignore them and take it as a sign that I need to refine my search results. Yeah, sometimes it's a problem with google's methods, but they do keep having to change to combat spammers, etc. so I don't fault them. I can't think of a time where I get nothing that's relevant or at least links to the primary source in the first page unless I made the search too unspecific, though.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    icon
    PaulT (profile), Jul 5th, 2012 @ 9:39am

    Re:

    "The mistake is that it's artificially culling search results to give the users what they THINK the user wants, not what they actually wants."

    How will they know what you're searching for? They skew toward the most popular results, but how can they know what you're looking for, 100% of the time, really?

    "It truly sucks for a punk band like Pink Slime, as they no longer rank in the SERPs."

    Never heard of them, and they don't appear on Wikipedia or AllMusic. I tried "pink slime punk band" but that returned a band just called "Slime".

    Either way, you can hardly blame Google - a lot more people are looking for the food product, and they'd be as annoyed at being given band information as you are about not seeing them. Google doesn't know which one you are, unless you want them to use that meaningless historical info...

    "Personalized search is a near meaningless echo of your past failures to find things."

    It gives Google more information than just the words you typed. I'd assume you can stop this by launching a tab in incognito mode and making your search there so theat they have no cookies or other search info?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    icon
    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), Jul 5th, 2012 @ 10:39am

    The Mayo Clinic? Who would trust medical advice from a slimy, two-bit outfit like that?

    On another note, I just typed "buy Green Lantern DVD" into Google and was sent to amazon.com (twice), bestbuy.com, cduniverse.com, amazon.co.uk, overstock.com, youtube, and amazon.com again.

    Obviously when I ask to buy the movie, I mainly get results for buying the movie.

    When I removed the "buy" term the results shuffled a bit and included one or two results for renting (blockbuster, redbox), but otherwise the top few results were similar (and amazon still at the top).

    And just as obviously, if I type in "free" then I'm looking for free and will be fobbed off with no other. Giving me results other than what I'm looking for just violates the entire purpose of a working search engine. Sort of like... Microsoft's help system, which seems to always assume that I already know how to use whatever command it is that I'm looking for help on. I've found Google much more useful.

    The Copyreich Alliance really needs to resolve that cranial-rectal inversion issue.

    http://www.sunilkk.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/p2.jpg?w=235

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 5th, 2012 @ 2:12pm

    What part of FREE don't they undestand!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 5th, 2012 @ 8:22pm

    Re:

    Free is something you can't compete with.

    Aside from that, they don't understand free.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    icon
    PaulT (profile), Jul 5th, 2012 @ 10:41pm

    Re: Re:

    ...and even that first assertion is a lie.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This