Random Thoughts – Randocity!

What’s wrong with Quora?

Posted in botch, business, california, rant by commorancy on July 28, 2019

QuoraYou might be asking, “What is Quora?” We’ll get into that soon enough. Let’s explore the problems with Quora.

Questions and Answers

Before we get into Quora, let’s start by talking about Google. Many people seek answers from Google for many different questions. In fact, questions are the number one use for Google. You don’t go to Google to seek answers you already know. You go there to search (or question) things you don’t know. Such questions might include:

  • Where can I buy a toaster?
  • How long do I bake a chicken?
  • How do I make Quesadillas?
  • What’s the value of my 1974 Pontiac T-Bird?

These are full text questions. And yes, Google does support asking questions in long form such as these above. You can also search Google by using short key words, such as “toastmaster toaster” or “pontiac t-bird” (no, you don’t even need to use the proper case).

These short form questions are solely for use at search engines. When seeking answers to long form questions both Google and other sites can offer responses to your questions. One such site is Quora. Another is Yahoo Answers (a much older platform). Even Google got in on this action with Google Questions and Answers.

Quora

Quora is a recent incarnation of the older Yahoo Answers platform. Even before Yahoo Answers, there was Ask Jeeves. Even Epinions, a product review site (defunct as of 2018), had many answers to many questions. Epinions, in fact, opens a bigger discussion around site closures and content… but that’s a discussion for another article.

The real question (ahem) is whether sites like Yahoo Answers and Quora provide valuable answers or whether they simply usurp Google’s ability to answer questions in more trusted ways. I’m on the fence as to this question’s answer. Let me explain more about Quora to understand why I feel this way.

Quora is a crowdsourced product. By that I mean that both questions and answers are driven by crowds of subscribers. Not by Quora staff or, indeed, Quora at all. Unlike Wikipedia which has many volunteers who constantly proof, correct and improve articles to make Wikipedia a trustworthy information source, Quora offers nothing but the weakest of moderation. In fact, the only moderation Quora offers is both removal of answers and banning of accounts.

Quora has no live people out there reviewing questions and answers for either grammar and mechanics, nor trustworthiness. No one questions whether an answer is valid, useful or indeed even correct. Quora doesn’t even require its answer authors to cite sources or in any way validate what they have written. In fact, Quora’s moderation system is so broken that when answer authors do cite sources, their answer might be flagged and removed as ‘spam’. Yes, the very inclusion of web site links can and will cause answers to be marked as spam and removed from the site. Quora’s insane rationale is that if there’s a web link, it must be pointing to a site owned by the answer author and in which the answer author is attempting to advertise. This stupid and undermining rationale is applied by bots who neither read the content they review nor do they understand that the answer author can’t possibly own Wikipedia.com, Amazon.com or eBay.com.

Indeed, Quora’s moderation is so bare bones basic and broken, it undermines Quora’s own trustworthiness so much so that when you read an answer on Quora, you must always question the answer author’s reputation. Even then, because Quora’s verification and reputation system is non-existent, you can never know if the person is who they say they are. But, this is just the tip of the troubles at Quora.

Quora’s Real Problems

Trustworthiness is something every information site must address. It must address it in concrete and useful ways, ways that subscribers can easily get really fast. Wikipedia has addressed its trust issues by a fleet of moderators who constantly comb Wikipedia and who question every article and every statement in each article. Even with a fleet of moderators, incorrect information can creep in. Within a day or two, that information will either be corrected or removed. Wikipedia has very stringent rules around the addition and verification of information.

Twitter offers a verification system so that celebrities and people of note can send information to Twitter to verify who they say they are to Twitter staff. You’ll notice these as little blue check mark’s by the Twitter subscriber’s name. These check marks validate the person as legitimate and not a fake.

Quora, on the other hand, has no such rules or validation systems at all. In fact, Quora’s terms of service are all primarily designed around “behaving nicely” with no rules around validation of content or of authors. Indeed, Quora offers no terms that address trust or truth of the information provided. Far too many times, authors use Quora as a way of writing fanciful fiction. Worse, Quora does nothing to address this problem. They’re too worried about “spam” links than about whether an answer to a question is valid or trustworthy.

Yet, Quora continually usurps Google’s search by placing its questions (and answers implicitly) at the top of the search results. I question the value in Quora for this. It’s fine if Quora’s answers appear in search towards the bottom of the page, but they should NEVER appear at the number 1 position. This is primarily a Google problem. That Google chooses to promote untrustworthy sites at the top of its search results is something that Google most definitely needs to address. Sure, it is a problem for Quora, but it’s likewise a problem for Google.

Google purports to want to maintain “safety” and “trustworthiness” in its search by not leading you to malicious sites and by, instead, leading you to trustworthy sites. Yet, it plops Quora’s sometimes malicious answers at the top of its search results. Google needs to begin rating sites for trustworthiness and it should then push search results to appropriate levels based on that level of trust. Google needs to insist that sites like Quora, which provide consumers with actionable information, must maintain a certain level of trust to maintain high search rankings. Quora having its question results appear in the top 3 positions of the first page of Google search based entirely on weak trustworthiness is completely problematic.

Wikipedia strives to make its site trustworthy… that what you read is, indeed, valuable, valid and truthful information. Quora, on the other hand, makes absolutely no effort to ensure its answers are valid, trustworthy or, indeed, even truthful. You could ask Google for the answer to a question. You might see Quora’s results at the top of Google’s results and click it. Google placing such sites in the top 3 positions implies an automatic level of trust. That the sites that appear in the first 3 results are there because they ARE trustworthy. This implicit trust is entirely misplaced. Google doesn’t, in fact, place sites in the top of its search because they are trustworthy. It places them there because of “popularity”.

You simply can’t jump to this “trustworthiness” conclusion when viewing Google search results. The only thing you can glean from a site appearing in Google results is that it is not going to infect your computer with a virus. Otherwise, Google places any site at the top of its ranking when Google decides to rank in that position. As I said, you should never read any implicit level of trust into sites which appear in the first 3 positions of Google search. Quora proves this out. Quora’s entire lack of trustworthiness of information means that Google is not, in any way, looking out for your best interests. They are looking out for Quora, not you. Quora’s questions sometimes even rank higher than Wikipedia.

Quora’s Answers

With that said, let’s delve deeper into the problem with Quora’s answers. If you’ve ever written an answer on Quora, then you’ll fully understand what I’m about to say. Quora’s terms of service are, in fact, counter to producing trustworthy answers. Unlike news sites like CNN, The Washington Post and the L.A. Times, where journalistic integrity is the key driving force, Quora ensures none of this. Sure, Quora’s answer editor tool does offer the ability to insert quotes and references, but doing so can easily mark your answer as ‘spam’.

In fact, I’ve had 2 or 3 year old Quora answers marked as ‘spam’ and removed from view because of the inclusion of a link to an external and reputable web site. Quora cites violation of terms for this when, in fact, no such violation exists. The author is then required to spend time appealing this “decision”.

Instead, its bots will remove reviews from its site based entirely upon reports by users. If a user doesn’t like the answer, they can report the review and the review bot will then take the answer down and place it under moderation appeal. There is no manual review by actual Quora staff to check the bot’s work. This work is all done by robots. Robots that can be gamed and sabotaged by irate, irrational, upset users who have a vendetta against other Quorans.

The answer takedowns are never in the interest of trust or making Quora more trustworthy, but are always in the interest of siding with the reporting user who has a vendetta or is simply insane. Users have even learned that they can game Quora’s robots to have answers removed without valid reasons or, indeed, no reasons at all. There’s no check and balance with the moderation robots or takedown requests. Quora receives a report, the answer is summarily removed.

Unfortunately, this is the tip of a much larger Quora iceberg. Let’s continue.

Which is more important, the question or the answer?

All of the above leads to an even bigger problem. Instead of Quora spending its development time attempting to shore up its level of site trust, it instead spends its time creating questionable programs like the Partner Program. A program that, in one idea, sums up everything wrong with Quora.

What is the Partner Program? I’ll get to that in a moment. What the Partner Program ultimately is to Quora is an albatross. Or, more specifically, it will likely become Quora’s downfall. This program solidifies everything I’ve said above and, simultaneously, illustrates Quora’s lack of understanding of its very own platform. Quora doesn’t “get” why a question and answer platform is important.

Which is more important to Quora? They answered this question (ha, see what I did there?) by making the question more important than the answer.

That’s right. The Partner Program rewards people monetarily who ask questions, NOT by rewarding the people who spend the lion’s share of their time writing thoughtful, truthful, trustworthy answers. In effect, Quora has told answer authors that their answers don’t matter. You can write a two sentence answer and it would make no difference. Yes, let’s reward the people who spend 5 minutes writing a 5-10 word sentence… not the people who spend an hour or two crafting trustworthy answers. And this is Quora’s problem in a nutshell.

Worse, it’s not the questions that draw people in to Quora. Yes, the question may be the ‘search terms’, but it’s not why people end up on Quora. The question leads people in, it’s the ANSWER that keeps them there. It’s the answers that people spend their time reading, not the questions.

This is the iceberg that Quora doesn’t get nor do they even understand. The questions are stubs. The questions are merely the arrow pointing the way. It’s not the end, it’s the beginning. The questions are not the reason people visit Quora.

By producing the Partner Program, Quora has flipped the answer authors the proverbial middle finger.finger-512If you’re a Quora answer author, you should definitely consider the Partner Program as insulting. Quora has effectively told the answer authors, “Your answers are worthless. Only questions have monetary value.” Yes, let’s reward the question writers who’ve spent perhaps less than 5 minutes devising a sentence. Let’s completely ignore the answer authors who have spent sometimes hours or days crafting their words, researching those words for clarity and truthfulness and ensuring trust in each detailed answer.

It’s not the questions that draw people in, Quora staff. People visit Quora for the answers. Without thoughtful answers, there is absolutely no reason to visit Quora.

Indeed, Quora’s thinking is completely backasswards, foolish and clownish. It shows just how much a clown outfit Quora really is. Seriously, placing value on the questions at the expense of answer authors who spend hours crafting detailed answers is the very definition of clownish. That situation would be synonymous to The Washington Post or The New York Times valuing and paying readers to leave comments and then asking their journalists to spend their own time and money writing and researching their articles, only to give the article to the newspaper for free. How many journalists would have ever become journalists knowing this business model?

Qlowns

Whomever at Quora dreamed up this clownish idea should be summarily walked to the door. Dissing and dismissing the very lifeblood of your site, the actual question authors, is just intensely one of the most stupid and insane things I’ve seen a site do in its life.

Not only is the very concept of the partner program qlownish, not only does it completely dissuade authors from participating in Quora, not only does is it completely backwards thinking, not only does it reward question authors (which honestly makes no sense at all), this program does nothing to establish trust or indeed, does nothing to put forth any journalistic integrity.

Instead, Quora needs to ditch the question Partner Program and fast. It needs to quickly establish a system that not only rewards the best answer authors, it needs to enforce journalistic integrity on EVERY ANSWER. It needs to implement a validation system to ensure that authors are who they say they are. It needs to make certain that every answer author understands that they are in every real sense a ‘journalist’. And, as a journalist, they should uphold journalistic integrity. That integrity means properly researching sources and properly citing those sources. Yes, it’s a hassle, but it means that Quora’s answers will become trustworthy sources of information.

Right now, the answer authors are mostly random and low quality. In fact, most answers are of such low quality that you simply can’t trust anything found on Quora. Since Quora does not enforce any level of journalistic standards on the answers, there is no way anyone reading Quora should trust what any answer author writes. An answer may seem detailed, but in some cases they are pure fiction. No one at Quora ensures that answers in any way uphold any level of journalistic integrity (there’s that phrase again). It’s an important phrase when you’re writing something that people rely on.

Making a statement of fact for something that seems questionable needs to be cited with a source of reference. Show that at least one other reputable source agrees with your “facts”. That doesn’t mean that that “fact” is true. It’s easy for other reputable sites to be fooled by tricksters. This is why it’s important to cite several reputable sources which agree with your facts. I don’t want to dive deep into the topic of journalistic integrity or what it takes to validate sources, so I’ll leave this one here. This article is about Quora’s inability to uphold journalistic integrity.

Quora’s Backward Thinking

Indeed, the Partner Program’s existence confirms that Quora’s site importance is the opposite of journalistic integrity. Quora’s team values only the questions and the question writers. They do not, in any way, value the journalistic integrity required to write a solid, trustworthy answer. Questions are mere tools. They do not at all imply any level of trust. Here’s another analogy that might make more sense.

A question is simply the key to open a lock. A key is a tool and nothing more. You pay for the lock and key together. You don’t pay only for a key. Paying for a key without a lock means you don’t value (or indeed) even need a lock. You can’t lock anything with only a key. The two are a pair and they both go hand-in-hand. If you lose the key, you can’t open the lock. If you lose the lock, they key has no value. However, it’s easier and cheaper to replace a key than it is to replace the lock. This shows you the value of a ‘key’ alone.

Because Quora chooses to place value only the key and not on the lock, they have entirely lost the ability to protect Quora’s reputation and credibility. Indeed, Quora’s credibility was already in jeopardy before the Partner Program was even a twinkle in someone’s eye. With the Partner Program, Quora has solidified its lack of credibility. Quora has officially demonstrated that it is committed to valuing and paying only for keys and never paying for locks to go with those keys. That means the locks will be the weakest, most flimsiest pieces of junk to ever exist… indeed, the locks won’t even exist.

When you’re trying to secure something, you want the strongest, most durable, most rugged, most secure lock you can afford. You don’t care about the key other than as a the means of opening and securing a lock. Sure, you want the key to be durable and rugged, but a key is a key. There’s nothing so magical about a key that you’d be willing the shell out big bucks solely for a key. You always expect a lock and key to go together. You expect to buy both and you expect them both to work as a cohesive whole. If the key fails, the lock is worthless. If the lock is breakable, then the key is worthless. A lock and key are the very definition of a synergistic relationship. In the lock and key relationship, both have equal importance to the relationship. However, the lock itself is viewed by most people as the most important piece. Locks, however, become unimportant if they can’t secure the belongings they are entrusted to protect. Yes, you do need both the key and the lock for the system to function as a whole.

Likewise, Quora needs both the question and answer to function as a cohesive whole. In the synergistic relationship between the question and an answer, neither is more important in this synergy. Of the two, however, like the lock mechanism, the answer is the most important to the end user because it is what imparts the most information to the reader. It is what must be trustworthy. It is what must contain the information needed to answer the question. The question then holds the same functionality as a key. In fact, it is very much considered a key to Google. That’s why they’re called ‘keywords’ or ‘key phrases’. Using the word ‘key’ when in relation to a search engine is intended to be very much synonymous with a real life key you attach to a key ring. A keyword unlocks the data you need.

Valuing both the Lock and Key

Quora needs a rethink. If there’s any value to be held on data, both the key and the lock, or more specifically the question and answer, need to be valued as a cohesive whole. If you value the question, then you must also value the answer(s). This means revenue sharing. The question author will then receive the equivalent % of revenue that each answer author receives based on work involved. Since a sentence might take you 5 minutes to write and requires no trustworthiness at all, the maximum value a question author might receive would be no more than 10%. The remaining 90% of the revenue would be issued to the answer authors based on traffic driven to the site.

Let’s say that $100 in revenue is driven to that Q&A for the first month. $10 is given to the question asker… always 10% of total revenue. That’s probably a little on the high side, but the question asker did kick the whole process off.

Now, let’s say 3 answers are submitted for the question. Let’s assume all 3 answer authors are participating in the revenue program. The remaining $90 is then spread among the 3 answer authors based on total views. Likes might pump up the percentage by a small percentage. If one answer is fully detailed and receives 2.5k views in 30 days and the remaining two answers receive 500 views each, then the 2.5k views answer author would receive at least 72% of the remaining revenue (2.5k + 1k = 3.5k). 2.5k is ~72% of 3.5k. This means this author would receive 72% of the remaining $90 or a total of $65. The remaining $15 would be split between the other two authors. The more participating authors, the less money to go around per answer. Questions that receive perhaps 200 answers might see only a few dollars of revenue per author.

There must also be some guidelines around answers for this to work. Answer authors must be invited to participate in the program. If the answer author isn’t invited and hasn’t agreed to terms, no revenue is shared. Also, one word, one sentence and off-topic answers disqualify the answer from sharing in revenue. Additionally, to remain in the revenue program, the answer author must agree to write solid, on-topic, properly structured, fully researched and cited answers. If an invited author attempts to game the system by producing inappropriate answers to gain revenue, the author will be disqualified from the program with any further ability to participate. Basically, you risk involvement in the revenue sharing by attempting to game it.

This math incentivizes not only quality questions, but also quality answers. The better an answer is, the more views it is likely to receive. More views means more revenue. The better and clearer the answer, the more likely the author is to not only be asked to participate in the revenue sharing program, the more likely they are to receive a higher share of that revenue. The best answers should always be awarded the highest amounts of revenue possible.

Google vs Quora

As I postulated early in the article, does Quora actually hold any value as a site or does it merely usurp Google’s search results? This is a very good question, one that doesn’t have a definitive answer. For me, I find that Quora’s current answers range from occasionally and rarely very high quality to, mostly, junky worthless answers. This junky aspect of Quora leads me towards Quora being a Google usurper. In other words, most of Quora’s results in Google are trash clogging up the search results. They shouldn’t be there.

Unfortunately, Google returns all results in a search whether high or low quality. Google does offer some limited protection mechanisms to prevent malicious sites from appearing in results. But, Google’s definition of the word ‘malicious’ can be different than mine in many cases. Simply because someone can put up a web site with random information doesn’t automatically make that site valuable. Value comes from continually providing high quality information on an ongoing basis… the very definition of professional journalism. Now we’re back to journalistic integrity. We’ve come full circle.

Unfortunately, because of Quora’s lack of insistence on journalistic integrity, I find Quora to be nothing more than a mere novelty… no better than TMZ or the National Enquirer. I’m not saying TMZ doesn’t have journalists. They do. But, a rag is always a rag. Any newspaper dishing dirt on people I always consider the bottom feeders of journalism… the very dreckiest of tabloid journalism. This type of journalism is the kind of trash that has kept the National Enquirer and other tabloids in business for many, many years. It’s sensational journalism at its finest (or worst). Sure, these writers might aspire to be true journalists some day, but they’ll never find reputable journalistic employment dishing dirt on celebrities or fabricating fiction (unless they begin writing fiction novels).

Unfortunately, many of Quora’s answers fall well below even the standards established by the dreckiest of tabloids. The one and only one thing tabloids and Quora have in common is fiction. Unfortunately, the fiction on Quora isn’t even that entertaining. It’s occasionally amusing, but most of it is tedious and cliché at its most common. Think of the worst movie you’ve watched, then realize that most of these Quora fiction “stories” are even less entertaining than that. There may be a few gems here and there (probably written by professional writers simply exercising their chops on Quora), but most of it is not worth reading.

Worse, the trust level of what’s written is so low (regardless of purported “credentials”), there’s nothing on Quora worth extending a level of trust. Reading Quora for sheer entertainment value, perhaps that can be justified a little. Even then, most answers fall way short of having even entertainment value. Even the worst YouTube videos have more entertainment value. Full levels of trust? No way. Quora has in no way earned that.

Seeking Answers

Yes, we all need questions answered, occasionally. We all need to seek advice, occasionally. Yes, I’m even seeking to answer the question, “What’s wrong with Quora?” Of course, don’t expect to read any answers like THIS on Quora. Oh, no no no. Quora is very, very diligent at removing anything it deems to be anti-Quora in sentiment, such at this article. Anyway, if you choose to seek out Quora for this kind of information, Quora’s immediately problems become your problem. Considering all of the above, Quora is probably one of the worst ways of getting information. Not only can you be easily deceived by an answer author, you can be taken for a ride down Scam Lane. Trust advice from Quora with the same level of acceptance as you would from a 6 year old child. I’m not saying there are 6 year old children on Quora, but Quora certainly acts like one. Seeking Quora for advice means you could, in fact, be taking advice from 13 year old via a Barbie encrusted iPad.

Should I write for Quora?

I’m sure this is the question you are now contemplating after having read this article. This is a question that only you can answer. However, let me leave you with these thoughts. When you write answers for Quora under the current Partner Program, you are doing so for free. Yet, question authors are being paid for YOUR effort, answer and research. You spend the time, THEY get the dime. It’s an entirely unfair arrangement.

To answer this question more definitively… I personally won’t write any future answers for Quora. Quora currently relies on each answer author’s thoughtful, researched answers to make its a success (and bring in ad dollars). If you do not like this turn of events with the Partner Program, say, “NO” and do not write for Quora.

If enough answer authors stop 🛑 writing for Quora, the questions writers can’t and won’t be paid. This will have Quora scrambling for a new fairer equity system. If you are just as disgusted by Quora’s Partner Program as I am, then walk way from Quora and no longer write answers. I have stopped writing answers and will no longer write any further answers for the site until they come to their senses and compensate both question writers and answer writers equally in a profit sharing arrangement.

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Personalized Search: Where is it?

Posted in business, search by commorancy on March 2, 2014

For all of the innovation hubbub involving search technologies back in the early 2000s, one thing that has still not materialized is personalized search. What is personalized search? Let’s explore.

Generalized Searching

Today, when you go to Google or Bing and you type in search keywords, you’re likely to get the same search results that everyone else sees when typing in those same keywords. But, this is approach today is asinine, antiquated and stupid. While it may have been okay back in the early 2000s when search was new and the database was smaller, with the larger amount of listings, personalized search is long overdue.

When Google introduced Gmail, I thought they might be onto something when they were discussing personalized ads in Gmail. Unfortunately, Gmail is pretty much where all of that innovation ended. Nothing different materialized in Google’s main search product. And worse, it’s now 2014 and we still don’t have anything different.

Personalized Search

Since nearly every search engine requires a login and password, it’s no big leap to offer ways of storing search preferences right into each user’s profile. As you search for things, the system will learn of your likes, preferences and click habits. Even better, add thumbs up and thumbs down on listings to move them up and down in your own personal search rankings. If I don’t ever plan to use Reddit, then I can lower its search rankings in my preferences. If I heavily use Twitter, I raise search rankings involving Twitter when they are ranked lower.

But, my preferences are my own. With the sites I like and the sites I dislike, I should be able to tailor my search results to fit my needs. If I decide to start using Reddit later, I can re-rank these listings higher again. These are all my choices and affect my own personalized search results.

As a side effect of personalized results, it also forces everyone to sign into Google or Bing to gain the benefits of personalized search. That’s definitely a benefit to these search engines.

Why personalized search?

Generalized searching, unfortunately, yields results based on someone else’s likes, dislikes, payola or other criteria. I want to tailor my own results to fit my search needs. So, if I’m searching for a specific product and I use Amazon frequently, Amazon’s listings will always be the first to show at the top. Why show me Newegg or J&R Music listings if I have no intention of going there to buy? It’s a waste of the search engine time and mine.

It’s quite clear that personalized search’s time has come and it’s something Google needs to embrace. That is, rather than the next ‘WheatToast’ version of Android (or whatever clever food name they happen to use). Google has clearly been ignoring search improvements and the lack of innovation in this area clearly shows how out of touch both Google and Bing are.

As the size of search databases grow, individuals need better innovative tools to tame and distill the millions of listings into smaller more personal and useful listings. Personalized search must become the next innovation in search.

What will this break?

Search Engine Optimization. I know I know, I can hear a lot of SEO advocates groaning about how bad this will be for SEO. Note that SEO would only be impacted by each user who tweaks personal search rankings. For users who don’t do this, normal SEO rules apply. Though, I don’t personally care about how high some company is ranked in my personal search list. What I care about is the quality of the listings. In fact, in a lot of cases, SEO won’t even be affected in my own results. If I have made no preferences involving some keywords, the generalized rules still apply. So, if none of my sites that I ranked higher are in the listing, the generalized results will be shown to me and standard SEO won’t be impacted. It’s only after the first generalized results list that I can tweak the listings to my own preference.

After that, SEO may be impacted by my own personal preferences. But hey, that’s my choice. That’s the point to personalized search results. If I value one company over another, that’s my preference. I have the right to make that preference. That some third party wants their listing at the top of my search results is not my problem. You can use a paid listing for that. That’s the point in paying for a listing. The organic results are my own and I should be able to rearrange, tailor and shuffle them to my own personal likes. There is no other way to tame the mounds of links that get thrown at users during generalized search… results that are only to grow larger and larger.

So, to those people relying on SEO, I say, “too bad”. Learn to pay for listings if you want to be at the top of my personalized search results or, alternatively, give me a reason to rank you higher. That is, whenever we finally get personalized search.

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Why Google’s search engine secretly sucks

Posted in Android, botch by commorancy on October 24, 2013

While Google touts its speed in returning results, and indeed the speed is impressive, it’s not the speed that matters. What matters is quality of the results and this is why Google’s search secretly sucks.  Let’s explore.

Google circa 1998

When Google first began in the late 90s, it fumbled to make a significant impact in search. It couldn’t quite figure out how to make searching that much better than what was already in place. From those early days until about 2005 and through many man hours of work, Google’s speed and results have improved. But, those improvements pretty much abruptly ended approximately 2005-2007. You know, right around the time that Android was a twinkle in someone’s eye.  Since then, all we have pretty much seen is stagnation in search technology. Search hasn’t improved in recent years, and even Google acknowledges this because instead of spending time improving search, now Google spends its copious free time creating Android, Gmail, Google Apps, Google Chrome, ChromeOS, Chrome tablets, Google Play, Google Docs, Google Maps, YouTube and the list goes on.  These are diversionary tactics to keep you from seeing just how bad Google search quality really is.

Searching Google Today

While Google’s search technology is still the fastest available and is still better than most other engines, it’s really become stagnant.  So stagnant, in fact, that the quality of the search results really matter very little to Google. For example, I would say that at least 1-2 links out of every search I have performed in the last year is dead.  Basically, it displays results for sites that are either down, sites that lead to placeholder pages or sites that lead to 404 or other unusable content.

I mean, what’s the point in that? I don’t want to look back in time at links that may have had revelance in 1998 or even 2003, I want to find links that are relevant to me today. It’s clear that while Google says they are doing quality optimizations, what they claim and what’s actually coming up in the search results is entirely different. Something about this situation isn’t working.

Dead Links

Really? I mean, come on Google. What’s the point in placing a completely dead link in the top 3 search results? What purpose does that really serve? What this says is that Google has so much cruft and garbage inside their database that’s now becoming dominant during search results. If that’s where we are today, it’s only going to get progressively worse, not better. Note, I’m finding it’s not just one link that’s bad, but several on the same set of results.

This issue is completely preventable. But, it’s going to take automation to fix this. Google needs to scour its indexed links and validate whether or not a site is actually providing the data it’s supposed to be providing. Instead, it appears Google found a page there some years ago, indexed it and that’s the way it has stayed. In reality, this cruft needs to be regularly cleaned out.  If search results had index dates stamped near the results stating when the information was originally indexed, I could simply avoid clicking a link that was last indexed 5 years ago. In fact, with the right UI, I could even request it to include only results that have been indexed in the last 12 months, perhaps even in the last 3 months. Maybe this is there in the ‘advanced search area’? It’s certainly not there in the basic search results.

Fresh Content

By knowing when an indexed link was created in Google and by allowing exclusion of old links, I can then tailor my search results to the most recent and freshest content. Granted, Google should automatically be doing this on my behalf, but they aren’t. Instead, it’s just all manner of random old garbage that gets thrown up in search results… and this is exactly the reason Google’s search secretly sucks.

Can it be fixed? Yes. Will Google ever really fix this? Probably not. It’s not really worth their time at this point. They’re too interested in screwing over SEO, invading privacy in Android and doing other projects unrelated to search.  All of those projects are far more attractive and cool to ever consider spending time doing ugly old janitorial work to clean up the mess they created in the first place. No one likes having to clean up a mess. Cleanup work never involves using cool new technologies, but yet it still has to get done. Unfortunately, this is the very real, very ugly secret why Google’s search sucks. It’s also the secret that Google doesn’t want you to know.

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American Idol: Failure to launch (artists)

Posted in concerts, music, TV Shows by commorancy on May 31, 2009

While I understand the hype about this series (the competition and all), I don’t really understand why this show continues to exist.  Yes, we go through each season and whittle down contestents to the final two.  But, after the winner is chosen, then what?  Oh yeah, they get a recording contract.  What happens after that?

Spotting Commercial Viability

The ‘judges’ (and I use this term loosely) seem to think they know what’s best in the ‘pop music biz’.  Frankly, if they could discover real talent, they would be working for a record company locating and signing talent right and left and not hosting a silly variety hour show.   But, here we are… and here they are.  So, I must honestly question the sincerity and realism of this show.  The whole thing is staged, yes, to find someone who can sing.  But, it’s really there as a money maker for whomever is producing that show.   The underlying values aren’t to get someone signed to a contract.  The real point is  to put on a show.  And, thats what they do, for better or worse.

Judges

It’s funny that they pick judges who are has-been recording artsts and supposedly A&R people like Simon Cowell.  What’s funny about Simon is that his ability to pick talent has been extremely spotty.  For example, he signed and produced Westlife.  Westlife is a boyband that’s a meager shadow of N*Sync and The Backstreet Boys at best.  What’s even more funny is that THAT is really his BEST claim to talent selection outside of Idol.  Every other artist beyond that isn’t even worth mentioning.

So, how do these washed-up has-beens end up judging a show that supposedly prides itself on selecting quality talent?  Well, let’s examine Idol more closely.

Winning Contestants

Since 2002, there has been (in order), Kelly Clarkson, Rubin Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Hicks, Jordin Sparks, David Cook and Kris Allen (most recently).  Arguably, the biggest name to come out of the Idol circle is Kelly Clarkson with Carrie Underwood as a solid second.  The rest, well, what about them?  They may have produced records, but few appear to be listening.  This isn’t a good track record for Idol.

Let’s consider Kelly Clarkson for a moment.  Even she has had her ups and downs (mostly downs).  While Kelly has a resonably strong voice, the question remains just how commercially viable it is.  With a name like American Idol, you’d think that Kelly Clarkson would have taken the pop crown away from the likes of Madonna and Britney.  Yet, while Madonna’s star is fading, Britney has taken the crown over and firmly holds it as far as pop acts go.  Britney wasn’t even ‘discovered’ on Idol.  More than this, Kelly has a stronger voice than Britney, yet you see what that gets you.  Kelly isn’t even close to being in Madonna’s league and, while Britney has her own personal issues, her music producers provide a much better music experience than most of Kelly’s efforts.

Outside of these ‘winners’, we also have non-winners like Jennifer Hudson (who’s at least as well known as Kelly Clarkson and she wasn’t even a runner-up) and she’s also an overall more complete ‘star’ than Kelly.  Then there’s David Archuletta, Chris Daughtry and Clay Aikin.  These four people are the proof that the judges cannot pick winners.  In fact, these 4 people should have won Idol, but didn’t.  Yet, they are still successful on their own.

Track Record

Just looking at Idol’s track record, you can see more of the Idol winners have failed to be commercially viable than have been successful (Fantasia who?  Jordin who? David who?  Rubin who? Taylor who?).  The point here, that the judges clearly are not capable of spotting talent.   Even when someone has real singing talent, is young and good looking, clearly that’s not everything that’s needed.  Otherwise, everyone graduating from Idol would have become an instant success… which, of course, has not happened.

I understand the fervor over this show and I understand that the point in watching is more about the competition than the outcome.   But, isn’t the outcome why we come to watch?  Don’t we actually expect the winner to become popular, make great music and usurp the pop crown from Britney?  After all, that’s what Idol started out promising.

Idol is Flawed

The premise of Idol is flawed.  The barometer by which they choose winners is in versatility in singing already commercially successful songs. The real barometer of talent is both in songwriting and performing.  Even though someone has a great singing voice, that doesn’t automatically make them a pop sensation.  Becoming a ‘Pop Idol’  comes with singing unique new songs.  Songs that have not been heard before.  Better yet, it proves talent when the person can both write and sing their own music.  Artists like Prince and Sarah McLachlan are capable of this.  To me, this is talent worth finding.  But, today, commercial pop music is more about the look and voice than it is about songwriting.  Music producers are far too prone to run to Taxi and buy a song or commission their favorite songwriter to write a song rather than having the singer write something.

For me, Idol would be a much more rounded show if they actually required the singers to also write all of their own material.  This would be a lot more time consuming, but requiring this would also show the true talent of the artist.  This premise would show a contestant’s ability to write music under pressure and, at the same time, perform that music admirably.  Using this model in the show would likely have changed both the contestants in the show and the outcome of the winners.  I would also have a lot more respect for the winners of the show.  I also believe the winners would have been far more commercially viable as artists than anyone Idol has, so far, produced.

Idol’s days are numbered

We are now going into the 9th season and I believe this show is wearing out its welcome.  Talent shows like this do come and go, so I expect this show go packing probably in one to two seasons.  If it lasts beyond 10 seasons, I’d be highly surprised.  I’m honestly surprised that it has survived this long with its dismal track record of spotting viable commercial talent.  Yes, the winners can sing, but can they produce an album that people want?  In 8 seasons, I’d say the answer to that question is unequivically no.  The spectacle of the live performance is great, but it doesn’t mean the contestant has what it takes to succeed in the music business. Clearly, Idol has failed at it’s primary goal.

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