In February, software engineer and blogger Dmitri Brereton wrote an essay titled “Google search is dyingfor his personal website. His two main arguments are that Google’s advertising is messy and dominates the results page, while the actual search results are mostly junk sites that have been reverse-engineered to gain rankings. raised.
If you’ve never Googled something and felt deeply dissatisfied with what it showed you, Brereton argues, you’re living in the Matrix. “What you don’t realize is that you’ve censored yourself by searching for most of the things you would have wanted to search for,” he writes. “You already know subconsciously that Google isn’t going to return a good result.”
I was living in Matrix. Then, two days after my 5-month-old’s ear infection, I was raided.
We had taken him to a doctor, but no one told us what to do if our baby’s ears hurt so badly that he didn’t want to eat. When we called the pediatrician’s office after a day-long hunger strike, the nurse told us that if we couldn’t feed him, he would have to go to the emergency room.
Naturally, we turned to Google for a second opinion.
My first search query was “baby with ear infection not eating”, all in quotes. Google returned no links to actual web pages, as well as three ads, one of which invited me to “Browse pictures of baby ear infection”.
Without the quotes, the same search query returned what looked like the full buffet: a better class of ads at the top, followed by links to pediatrics and general health websites. But on closer inspection, the results didn’t look like what Brereton described. at the new yorker as “the authentic Web”. Each link took me to an almost identical hospital website or healthy lifestyle site, and they all said pretty much the same thing: “These are the symptoms of an ear infection. If you think your child has one, call a doctor.”
According to Brereton’s essay, there is a third and correct way to find answers to very specific questions: add the word Reddit at the end of your Google query. When I finally did this, minutes before we were ready to pack our screaming baby into a car seat and head to the hospital, the very first search result, from r/beyondthebump, was: “Advice for when baby has an infection and won’t eat or drink!” The second link took me to an article titled “2 year old stopped eating after starting antibiotics for ear infection”, from r/Parenting. These weren’t ads or reverse-engineered copypasta, but real humans sharing information with other real humans about my exact problem.
It only took us a few minutes to find the tip that whetted our son’s appetite. A Reddit user in England shared the advice of a nurse who told her to give the baby something salty to chew on, then wait for her thirst to take over her discomfort. This trick worked for us (we used Bamba) and no ER visits were required.
Brereton argues that the effectiveness of the Google-Reddit combo is overwhelming for both platforms because Reddit’s own search function doesn’t work well on its own. Most of the follow-up comments he inspired agree that the upper layer of the internet is over-monetized and over-optimized garbage. But for me, the Reddit hack reminded me that getting the best information when we need it has always been a challenge and probably always will be.
“The best way to use the knowledge initially dispersed among all peoples is at least one of the main problems of economic policy”, wrote FA Hayek in “The Use of Knowledge in Society”, published in The American economic journal in 1945. “The knowledge of the circumstances which we must use never exists in a concentrated or integrated form.” Hayek opposed centralized economic planning, but this wisdom applies equally to businesses and individuals. Most problems boil down to a knowledge problem.
Although it almost certainly does a better job than search.gov, even Google is not able to provide “all the knowledge that should be used but is initially scattered among many different people”. But it could get closer if you add Reddit to your search query.
This article originally appeared under the title “Internet research is better than ever if you know how to use it”.