rrpicDon’t get me wrong. But when I try to search anything on our search engines I get lost in the search results. Mainly I use Google or Yahoo! site for searching. Could not muster courage to dabble with others, as I have burned my fingers with these popular ones. Here’s the sad story of search engines, scripted by Rakesh Raman.

Here it goes. For any query, the volume of hyperlinks thrown back on my computer monitor runs into miles across multiple web pages. Some times I feel I need another search engine to search relevant information from the search results.

Don’t know the precise definition of a search engine but I suppose it should be: “a web-based software utility that searches everything for you except what you want.” 

Let’s take a real-life example. I live in New Delhi. And I’m really fed up with the gangs of stray dogs in this Indian capital. I was just curious to know how many stray dogs are in the city. So I searched “number of stray dogs in new delhi” on Google. 

I’m damn sure this exact data won’t be available on the web, because these dogs keep visiting their relatives outside the city or their relatives would pour in from other places. And I can’t expect our municipal corporation to keep this data and then regularly update it on the web. So ideally I shouldn’t have seen any result back.

But Google will show its efficiency even in such hopeless conditions. You know how many results it showed! Hold your breath! It took just 0.41 seconds to cull out 275,000 records and displayed them on countless web pages. I – and you also – wonder if this dog data is not available then what Google is trying to produce.

I suppose for every search query, it follows the meaning of its name. As you know – and Google says – its name comes from “Googol,” a mathematical term for a 1 followed by 100 zeros. Now when you search anything on it, it tries to produce results that are equivalent to “1 followed by 100 zeros” in number.

And while showing these utterly useless results, Google perhaps knows that most users will be dissatisfied with its output. So it subtly asks at the bottom of the page: “Dissatisfied? Help us improve”.

Other search service providers are equally notorious, but ironically all of them are attracting billions of searches on their sites. Take U.S. market, for example. Research firm comScore reveals Americans conducted 13.1 billion core searches in February 2009. While Google Sites led the U.S. core search market with 63.3% of the searches conducted, it was followed by Yahoo! Sites (20.6%), Microsoft Sites (8.2%), Ask Network (4.1%), and AOL (3.9%). In terms of numbers, Google Sites handled 8.3 billion core searches, followed by Yahoo! Sites with 2.7 billion, and Microsoft Sites with 1.1 billion. 

The number of searches is high perhaps because users come to search sites again and again with the hope to find some useful information. But problem persists. Their output may be confusing but, believe me, all the search engines are earning plenty of money from the advertisers and thriving on this confusion. 

That’s not all. In the process, they’ve created an unruly ecosystem in which some others – called search engine optimization (SEO) companies – are adding fuel to the fire by selling something that has hardly any value. When the search engine technology itself is too crude, how can you optimize its output? 

There’s a fundamental flaw in the so-called optimization services. We know each potential keyword normally exists on millions of web pages. And a search engine shows, say, 10 results per web page. If hundreds or thousands of companies want these “optimizers” to bring their references at the top, it’s structurally not possible. Their links are bound to flow to subsequent pages no matter how much they pay for the service. And study of consumer behaviour tells that you can’t expect a user to go beyond three web pages while searching a piece of information. There are other optimization-related issues as well, which are beyond the scope of this write-up.

At this stage, users can keep using this raw search facility so long as it’s free. But companies or advertisers must think twice before paying even a single penny to any search service vendor.

And don’t expect any meaningful development on the search scene in near future. The confusion will keep mounting at a rate faster than the growth of stray dogs’ population in my city. So, the sad story continues…

Rakesh Raman is the managing editor of My Techbox Online.

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About Rakesh Raman

Have extensive editorial, content management, and integrated communications experience and have worked as a senior tech journalist, analyst, and columnist with different newspapers, magazines, and Web/online properties in India.

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