The Web is just several decades old, still in its infancy. If we compare our behavior on the web with the same phase of let’s say how we processed food back in the days, then we’re probably digital hunters and gatherers today. We search the Internet. Indeed, you would find ‘hunt’, ‘forage’ and ‘scavenging’ among synonyms for ‘search’. It’s a pretty primitive type of behavior we exhibit at early stages for many technologies. And the Internet is no exception.
There are 3 big issues with search overall:
First, we don’t know if the subject of our search is there or not (we hope it is). How many times have you ended up not finding information you’re looking for exactly or finding sub-par information on the web? I would argue that a large amount of information is either non-existent on the web or very hard to find. There’s a lot of information that has been in peoples’ heads and hasn’t gotten onto the Internet. Yes, you will stumble upon something and thanks to modern search engines, we’re getting better and better results. But imagine going for skim milk one morning tens of thousands of years ago. Would you find an organic 1 gallon skim milk package that day? Probably not. Maybe not milk that day but you will probably find something if you’re a skillful hunter. Yes, many hunters would argue that their skills and weapons are perfectly fine and there’s no need to improve anything while milk is totally could be replaced with something else today. You only can evaluate your choice when you can easily compare it to all other available options.
Is there a decent study showing how satisfied we are with web search results? Probably. I wasn’t able to find it though after spending half an hour searching.
Production and distribution is an obvious way to improve the satisfaction of any human need, including information.
Second, search obviously takes time and effort. And this is the reason Google search evolves today to featured snippets.
The average amount of time it takes a Google searcher to click on something is 14.6 seconds according to this Backlinko study. Here’s another study confirming 15 seconds to click on something but also adding 9 seconds for typing the search query. And this is why less than half of Google searches resulted in a click. We don’t want to click or search. We just need an answer to our information needs.
It looks like one pagers are winners today and they will continue to get a larger share of the market.
Third, here’s the largest downside of any search - as it usually happens in a hostile environment. Back in the days, predators of our search environment wanted our flesh. These days we search in a digital jungle full of predators who want our time/attention, data and eventually money. And driven by natural selection they’re pretty good at what they do. More and more of this becomes a problem these days from an ethical point of view, but there’s another big problem (related to point 1 listed above) - the quality of information we’re getting is subpar compared to what’s available out there. We’re just sold on something they sell us.
It seems logical that information coming from entities whose interests are aligned with yours (such as other regular people like you) should be of higher quality than information coming from hostile entities (such as commercial companies).
And here comes the biggest problem with internet search in particular - the results are based on the language we use. And we’re really bad at it. Translating our needs into search words requires time and effort. So we usually type just one word into the search bar. For example, take any list of top searches and you will see that one-word queries are the vast majority of what we do on the web. For example, 60% from top 2021 searches in the US consist of only one word. True, many of them are navigational, but what about top searches like ‘food’ or ‘trump’? Just recently Google learned that when tens of millions of people will type the word ‘food’ in their search engine this month they’re not looking for a definition of the food concept from Wikipedia (which is still the #1 result on the list of results). We don’t want to apply effort to pick particular words to satisfy our informational needs but we’d rather indicate the type of need and let others navigate us.
Autocomplete is getting better and better, but it still has room to improve, especially for one-word queries and we see a way to leverage human collaboration and judgment to improve navigation from the initial search query to the actual topic of interest.
With that, we tried to incorporate these ideas on the current state of information processing today and are beta launching TheBooq.com - wiki for internet search results. One page practical and actionable responses written by people like you for any web search queries.
We hope that in the future you won’t search the internet by looking at a list of 10 links to websites that have the most relevant information but rather you will just type search words and a one-pager that gives you the exact answer will appear on your screen. This one-pager will be a result of open collaboration among volunteers like you who are passionate about this particular topic. Better information quicker.