When Google displaced Altavista and Yahoo! over a decade ago it seemed like we’d been rescued from bad search. Google’s PageRank algorithm – and page design – pushed away the clutter of Altavista while their deep indexing beat out Yahoo!’s human-indexed directories. Their clean page led you directly to the results you were looking for. It was like putting the web in a washing machine – after a few revolutions your search results were clean, useful, snug, and fit.
But now search results are starting to show their wear. Content Farms like Demand Media are worth more than the New York Times, producing over a million low-quality articles for popular searches. Other sites quickly copy published content, flooding search results with just a few extremely similar pages. When I Google: “How much is spent on SEO every year?”, 8 of the top 10 results are a conversation with someone named Jack – and no answers. As Paul Kedrosky puts it, “Google has become a snake that too readily consumes its own keyword tail. …Content creators are simply using Google against itself, feeding its hungry crawlers the sort of thing that Google loves to consume, to the detriment of search results and utility.”
Some have gone as far as to suggest that we’re facing, as David Worlock put it, “The Decline and Fall of the Google Empire.” Clearly a different approach is called for.
Early efforts – Wolfram Alpha, Google Product Search, and Bing’s travel search all have something in common: they build on factual data to give better results. Savvy users might also go directly to Wikipedia when looking for knowledge or Freebase for bare facts. But if you’re looking for something editorial – a recommendation – there hasn’t been a solution. Indeed, if you saw someone search for “best car” you’d take the keyboard away from them and hide it. If you saw them search for “best car for me”, you might beat them with it.
When these searches do take you to reviews, they cover only a few items, are often out of date, and are limited by the knowledge of a single writer. Out of desperation, many just search a vendor’s page and even though we know that bad reviews are deleted and that search results are arranged to maximize profitability, we choose whatever looks promising, pay a tax for our laziness, and move on.
All told, the marketers are winning. Despite the availability of facts, online marketing spend is expected to pass $100 billion a year in 2014.
Most of what we do online to make decisions – searching for data, seeking to understand what it means, and then understanding what’s important to us – has already been done by someone else who’d like to share their research. And, if it was available to you, you wouldn’t mind making that research a bit better. We just need the tools.
Tools like Pikimal. Pikimal helps us to help each other to make better decisions. Pikimal is comprised of “Pikis” – like “wikis” for picking. Past just reviews, Pikimal users can recommend specific facts to others as a basis for decision-making. Out of those facts, Pikimal sifts through the data to figure out what’s most highly recommended. The site learns from every user what is important to them in their decision so we can give ever-better advice. As new features are developed, users indicate their importance and as new choices are introduced, they integrate seamlessly into Pikimal’s recommendations.
Pikimal tears down all the marketing hype—the brightly colored boxes, the boasts and claims, the top-tier search results—and gives you the facts about the products and services you’re searching for. Anyone can boast about the benefits and good sides to their products, but it’s only the real quality stuff that can still be attractive when all the facts are considered. Pikimal helps you find the things that really fit your needs and not the things that don’t—no matter how good they can make themselves look.