Battling the search engines

Whether it’s Google, DuckDuckGo, or Yahoo, all the search engines seem to work the same way, and they all have the same problems. I generally use Startpage, but it’s just a privacy-enhancing front end to Google. If you look for an unusual word, they’ll decide it should really be another word. I’ve gotten used to this happening with my name, but even the FCC Commissioner has the same problem, with search engines giving mostly “O’Reilly” in the results when I search for “O’Rielly.” If I search for DROID, the software tool from the UK National Archive, I’ll get lots of hits for “Android.” (Insert obvious Star Wars joke here.)

Another big problem is that search results are heavily skewed toward recent pages. This makes it very hard to research a controversial topic. Often all the matches point at recent news and opinion articles, making it very hard to find background material. Wikipedia can help, though often its links are broken or of poor quality.

I think Google puts heavy weight on social media for its search ranking. It’s widely claimed that Google puts a high priority on links from Google+, even though few people actively use the service. Whether they’re built up from Google+, Facebook, or Twitter, we get trendy search results rather than pointers to reliable sources.

This week, I thought the hand of a vaguely portrayed figure in Girl Genius looked more like an ape’s than a human’s, so I searched for “chimpanzee hand.” Eight of the ten results on the first page were about whether chimpanzee hands are “more evolved” than human ones. I really doubt that the majority of the Web pages mentioning chimpanzee hands are on that topic, especially since scientists don’t take the concept of being “more evolved” very seriously.

Today I tried finding information about “Trump University,” which is facing charges of fraud. It’s easy to find articles about those charges, but hard to find factual background articles that predate the lawsuit. Wikipedia isn’t helpful on this point either.

You can narrow your results to the past week or month, but what I’d really like is an option to exclude the most recent pages and only give results at least a week or month old.

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