Dumbing Down Google - Google In-depthThe Google search results now include a new feature: Google In-depth Articles. I’ve taken a quick look around these new search results taking pride of place on the first page Google , and I’m very concerned to see the way Google is dumbing down the search results.

These in-depth are only appearing on Google.com the moment (not Google.co.uk yet)

First, a bit of background. Google’s research shows that around 10% of searches are for looking for information about a broad topic, like Racism or Abortion or England. To fit the need of these users, Google is now featuring “thoughtful, in-depth” from well known publishers as well as lesser-know publications and bloggers.

Who looks for this kind of broad content? Impressionable young students. Kids doing school projects.  Young people developing their minds.

Run a search for a broad phase like England, and you will get a block of results in the middle of the first page of search results that look like this, featuring articles from Vanity Fair, The Guardian, and The New York Times.

In depth Article - England


Wait a minute… Vanity Fair?

If a person is looking for broad background information about England, why is Google is signposting them to Vanity Fair?  The article is about English eccentricity, mania and oddity (likening England to a Monty Python sketch) but probably not appropriate for somebody wanting a quick, informed answer to the concept of “England.”

I know this is a brand new service, but I have done a quick search around to see just how appropriate the new Google In-depth Articles for a searcher wanting to know more about a broad topic

Google Dumbing Down:  News Sources

I was hoping this wasn’t just an Anti-Anglophile result, so I veered back a more predictable query that the American focus might get better:  Barack Obama.

Low and behold, the dumbed-down results suggests searchers looking for “thoughtful, in-depth articles” about the President of the United States should be reading 3 popular magazines: Esquire, Vanity Fair, and Rolling Stone.  And an article featuring on how he likes to play Basketball.

Hmm..  perhaps the fact he is America’s first black president is more significant?

What about the needs of our young enquiry minds at school, wanting to write a report about the President?

Google In-depth - Barack Obama


Google Dumbing Down: Content Focus

Popular magazines may not be only source of in-depth information, but even when Google choose authoritative sources, it’s choice of articles can be inappropriate.

A search for the phrase Law brings up results from Mother Jones, The New York Times, and The Atlantic.  So far so good; very American focused but at least it is a move in the right direction.

But two of the three featured articles are about the highly specific, and to be frank nearly irrelevant topic of  Arizona Immigration Law.  And the third article is about Ridiculous Laws.

Dumb, dumber, dumbest.

This may be hot topic at the moment, it may be what Americans are search for, but are these truly the results Google should be serving to a searcher wanting to understand the concept of law?

google indepth dumbing down - Law


So, Why are these In-depth Results so Dumb?

Google In-Depth is all about the Algorithm. There isn’t a real, live person (once upon a time called an editor or even a librarian) curating or selecting this content

Read through the background information  launching the new service and what appears in the in-depth results and how to get your content marked up it would appear these results are purely algorithmic.

I wonder if as a society we should be starting to Fear the Power of the Algorithm.  Actually, this may be the title of my new book…

Is the Google Algorithm really appropriate for serving in-depth, knowledgable content?  Definitely not.

  • Freshness:  what has been published recently. Not the best.  Just new.
  • Authority:  what kind of sites are getting lots of high quality links. Like trendy magazine sites, not old fashioned text books sites.
  • Markup: are the sites playing by Google’s rules, using scheme.org mark up correctly.  Hardly like from university sites or individual experts sites.


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