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Posted at 1:35 PM ET, 01/28/2011

Is Google getting less reliable?

By Sarah Halzack

It's hard to dispute Google's status as one of the darlings of the technology industry. Its search engine and other products are practically ubiquitous, and the company's moves -- from its product launches to its latest Doodles -- are closely followed by consumers and competitors.

But is the Goliath of the search world getting less reliable? As Mike Rosenwald reports, some users and analysts are starting to think so.

It's an interesting notion, particularly considering the firm's recent executive shake-up in which industry veteran Eric Schmidt stepped aside as chief executive to let Google's co-founder, Larry Page, take the reins and perhaps re-inject the tech giant with some of the Silicon Valley start-up mojo that it burst with in its early days.

But if Google's coming up short, what could do a better job? In his story, Rosenwald points to social media as a better option. He shares an example of a woman who turned to the Web for help fixing the crummy picture quality on her flat-screen TV. After getting lousy results from a Google search, she put the question to her Twitter followers, who gave fast, helpful advice.

Below, check out the exchange Rebecca Skloot had with her fellow Twitter users, followed by the results she got from Google that she deemed subpar.

Do you agree that Google's search results aren't what they used to be? Are Twitter and Facebook better places to get your questions answered? In the comments section, tell us about a time in which Google let you down and social media came through with useful information.

Old TV died, got new-fangled LEDTV. Shocked how bad/fake movies look! Can see sets, studio light. Kills it. Others have this prob? (cont'd)less than a minute ago via web

(cont'd) Is that the case w/all LEDTVs? Recs for type of TV to get so movies look like ... movies? LCD? Plasma?less than a minute ago via web

@RebeccaSkloot Try turning off the 120Hz/240Hz overscanning. Good for sports, awful for films.less than a minute ago via Mobile Web

@insecurewalrus I was wondering if there was some setting I was missing. No clue how to do this, but will check manual & report back. Thx!less than a minute ago via web

@RebeccaSkloot All sets calibrated to look good (read: bright) on showroom floor; you've got to calibrate it. Pixar DVDs have menu for itless than a minute ago via web

@ScienceMike Thanks! Pixar DVDs have menu 4 calibrating 4 animated and non-animated movie watching?less than a minute ago via web

@RebeccaSkloot Yeah, they have a screen that instructs you to change brightness until you see X, change tint until you see Y. Works for all!less than a minute ago via web

@ScienceMike That is so awesome. I now love Pixar even more than I did before. Didn't know that was possible. Thx! Will report backless than a minute ago via web

@insecurewalrus cue the #AngelChoirMusic, that's exactly what I needed. Thank you! Will report back on how it goes.less than a minute ago via web

Thx 4 fixing my TV today! It's example of how Google=in trouble. Googled 4 fix, got spam sites. On Twitter answer=asap than a minute ago via web

Thanks to all who shared tech tips and links for fixing my TV problem today. I <3 twitter.less than a minute ago via web


By Sarah Halzack  | January 28, 2011; 1:35 PM ET
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Mandela home, Emanuel home, and Egypt protests
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I still find Google extremely useful - it's my first choice search engine. Sure there are some spam results, but they're easy enough to recognize and avoid by glancing at the URL before clicking.

The protagonist of this article hasn't discovered a fault in Google; she's just lazy. She could 1) read the manual for the product she's bought or 2) compose a better search query or 3) just choose one of the mainstream links (cnet, for example) which her sloppy query brought up.

Using twitter is like calling someone up for help - easy for you, but trouble for them. Improve your research skills, solve your own problems.

Posted by: SuzanneNYC | January 30, 2011 7:15 PM | Report abuse

Yes, it is getting less reliable. One big problem, of its own making no less, is its recent decision to show numerous responses from a single web site, such that one site can dominate the first page of results. That makes it ever harder to sort through the hits to find what might be relevant to what is wanted. An awful lot of people hate that deliberate move by Google, and I, at least, have yet to see any who like it. They have, as many have said, just plain lost sight of who their average user is and what that user wants from them. When such lack of focus is coupled with the ingenuity of spammers, the situation gets grim: you don't see what you do want, and you see a lot of what you definitely don't want.

The basic task of a search engine is to evaluate the relevance of sites' content to search queries; Google became a runaway success because one day two kids had the bright idea of "outsourcing" that task to the internet as a whole. But now that cheap answer is becoming less and less viable. Google (and the rest) need to go back to the long-abandoned--and admittedly very difficult--job of actually evaluating content themselves, instead of by easily rigged popularity contests.

Posted by: owlcroft | February 2, 2011 4:33 AM | Report abuse

Google has become far less reliable. I'm an editor, and I use Google for work. I also use it for personal searches. The trick is to outhink the spammers. For example, if you're looking for a solution or relief for back pain and you Google "back pain relief" or "back pain help" or similar, many of the items will be ads (or low-quality "information"). You get much better results just putting in "back pain."

Similarly, the other night I was shopping for a medication for ringwork. I Googled "ringworm kill" and got nothing but garbage. Sticking with "ringworm" produces much better results.

The garbage purveyors know that most people with back pain will search "back pain relief" and those with ringworm will search "ringworm kill" (or "ringworm treatment").

Google has the ability to tweak its algorithms to minimize the garbage. I'm puzzled as to why it hasn't.

Meanwhile, I've found myself using alternatives to Google, too, such as Aardvark. It's not perfect, but the very fact that such a service is gaining traction ought to scare the heck out of Google.

Posted by: Wordsmth | February 2, 2011 3:52 PM | Report abuse

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