For many people these days, Google is the ‘home page’ of the internet—the jump-off point for everything. In many cases, with good reason. I’m a software engineer myself and I’m still astounded week to week at Google’s apparent psychic powers to know what exactly I’m looking for. In truth it’s a two-way relationship. Just as billions of users are ‘training’ Google’s algorithms—constantly fine-tuning its accuracy based on everyone’s clicks and queries—Google is subtly and constantly training me to use it in better ways. My job requires me to use Google all day—finding examples of code, documentation, specific answers to quirky error messages I may receive. Because of this practice and experience, I have come to be pretty good at knowing exactly what terms to punch in to get the results I want.
However, in my job I’m mostly looking for facts. Even if I’m after a relatively complicated solution to some specific software engineering roadblock I’ve run into that day, I’m still presenting a narrow, direct problem to Google. A search engine can easily find me the chemical symbol for gold, a range of online stores where I can buy t-shirts, and neatly present me with a gallery of pictures of Melbourne’s city skyline, but what happens when I want to learn how best to invest my savings, or even achieve happiness in life?
Posing an open-ended question to Google can often do more to cloud an issue than to clarify it. With a simple search one can be confronted with a deluge of information, many from less-than-trustworthy sources out to make a buck or push an agenda. The ‘instant-gratification’ mechanism of search-engine results does little to engage, inspire or encourage when it comes to broader subjects. There must be something else.