When Google Fails
“Just Google it.” (No one ever says, “Just Yahoo it,” much to Yahoo’s dismay.)
I’m not convinced that Google’s artificial intelligence has made it out of grade school yet. To prove this, all you need to do is imagine a destructive idea—making Google have the wrong answer.
You can already see this idea being carried out on a small scale, with people learning how Google ranks pages, and subsequently getting their pages ranked higher. These pages are only intended to serve impression ads, and often do not have the information the user was looking for when they first searched. While this phenomenon is still a growing one, it has so far been contained by the narrow interest of the perpetrator.
But, what if a group of people decided that they had no revenue interest in any one particular manipulated Google result, but instead wanted to make as many common inquiries to Google return results that are completely inaccurate and irrelevant—at least within the first 10-20 listings.
This concentrated effort would show that the algorithms that Google uses could not effectively address the problem before the troublemakers would be able to adapt and evolve themselves. A band of misfits numbering less than a thousand could probably stay ahead of Google’s efforts to stop their trouble making. This is largely because Google is doing everything in house.
To illustrate, imagine a factually correct Wikipedia result that someone one day decides to alter. The mistake will be corrected in a very short period of time, relatively speaking, because each visitor is like a tiny quality control department. A page of irrelevant Google results, on the other hand, will go much longer before being corrected, given what is required for Google’s personnel and algorithms to notice the problem.
I believe a vulnerability that undermines Google Search is an Achilles heel to the entire brand. There is a threshold of error that users will collectively allow, and if Google continues to move toward this instead of away from this, users will begin to search for an alternative (pun most definitely intended.)
I’m trying to describe a way for a new service to effectively compete without giving away too much of the delicious secret sauce.