Are We Breaking Google?

Most of the sites I visit these days are: Wikipedia, Facebook, sites written by people I've known online since the late 1990s, people who I met online around 2004, and a few sites that I've learned about through real life connections, open source, and science fiction writing. That's about it, it sounds like a lot, and it is, but the collection is pretty static.

As I was writing about my nascent list of technical writing links, I realized that while I've been harping on the idea of manually curated links and digital resources for for a single archives for a couple of years now, I've not really thought about the use or merits of manually curated links to the internet writ large.

After all you can find anything you need with Google. Right?

I mostly assumed that if I could get people to curate their own content, "browsing" would become more effective, and maybe Google technology could adapt to the evolving social practice?

Though the inner workings of Google are opaque, we know that Google understands the Web by following and indexing the links that we create between pages. If we don't link, Google doesn't learn. Worse, if we let software create all the links between pages, then Google starts to break.

Put another way: the real intelligence of Google's index isn't the speed and optimization of a huge amount of data--that's a cumbersome engineering problem--but rather our intelligence derived from the links we make. As our linking patterns change, as all roads begin to lead back to Wikipedia, as everyone tries to "game" Google (at least a little) the pages that inevitably float to the top are pages that are built to be indexed the best.

And Google becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because whatever page we do find out about and create links to are the links that we've found using Google. We've spent a lot time thinking about what happens if google becomes evil, to think about what happens to us as Google stops providing new and useful information. We've spent considerably less work considering what happens when Google becomes useless.

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