“Informed by human judgement”: Google isn’t God

Adventures at

I went to was Chris Sherman’s Search Engine Report session this morning, where early on he repeated the question (first?) posed in the headline of a NYT piece a few years ago: “Is Google God?”

I don’t worship Google. (Passionate obsession and engagement with the web does not equal membership in the Church of Google.) I don’t think of Google as all-powerful. However, I suppose if I were dependent on Google’s ads or search referrals for my income, I might feel differently. I do lean toward conceding all-seeing to Google though, because if it can pick up a post like this one within 24 hours, truly no sparrow falls without it noticing.

Spiritual musings aside, the real point of Sherman’s talk — what are search engines up to, anyway? — boiled down to “they all think there is gold in user behavior.” Algorithmic search has plateaued, so a combo of algorithms and “people-mediated” search is going to be the way forward. Trust networks are going to become increasingly important. (Or, as Joshua Porter put it last year, “Recommendation systems are the end goal of Web 2.0.”) Social search — loosely defined by Sherman as “informed by human judgement” — will work best for non-text content (photos, videos, music).

Sherman delivered a good overview of what is going on in the web search world. And I found that, like with any good conference session, half the point for me was in the big or small a ha!s that come from being in the room, but aren’t necessarily closely tied to the speaker’s message. A couple from this morning were:

  • My “that’s so freaking cool” moment: seeing the Real Underground Map. Pure genius. It takes the iconic Tube map and morphs it to conform to real geography, then lets you overlay details from a map of London.
  • My eureka! moment: an idea for how to win the Netlix competition. (Of course I’m not going to tell you what it is now, that would be stupid. The million is mine, mwahahaha.)