It’s been a very interesting ride, doing this whole week without using any search engines of any kind. Many people took bets too see how long I would last. Mike McDonald said three, David Brown said 2, Carolyn Shelby wished me good luck, and Brian Mark didn’t think I’d miss it.
Well, I lasted all Five Days (I meant business week, what do you think, I’m a masochist?) of which I blogged about 3. Let me give you a recap of how day 4 and 5 went. (luckily I kept some notes)
Day 4 was a busy work day for me, so I didn’t have a big issue with searching on that day. I did a couple of experiments, however, on Facebook and Digg, for a little issue I was having with asp.net. This is old techo babble stuff, but I’ve never had a problem with it until now. Briefly, in asp.net web applications, you can create a custom error page in a dynamic website that will show when a page goes missing. Up pops an error page you define to let the user know “Whoopsee, looks like the page your looking for is fubar.” Problem is, this error page sends out a 302 redirect message. Most of my three readers are SEO inclined so you know that ain’t the worst problem around, but not elegant. So I tried Facebook and Digg for the results.
Facebook, predictably, came up with caca booty. Facebook isn’t really an information gateway anyway, it’s a people gateway. Now, lately I’ve really become freakin’ tired of being bitten by werewolves and attacked by zombies, so I killed all those applications. Now, however, I’m being auctioned off in some weirdo human slavery deal where people bid on other people. Seems I’m worth $60,000 dollars now. Look, all these quirky little Facebook apps are nice, but not what I’m there for. I’m there to connect with people, not be rundown by Vampires and Warriors. Facebook let’s you opt out of these games, but I wish they’d let you opt out of these games before hand. Something that says, “Don’t bite me, poke me, push me, pinch me, attack me, give me a teddy bear, hang me, hit me with a brick, run me over with a car, or give me a venereal disease. I just want to connect with people on a friendly and professional level, leave the violence for fighters.com“
So I moved on to Digg, and did a search, and come up with a big ugly page that said, “I ain’t got nothin’ for you man.” Digg, to me, is a double sided blade. You can’t say that Digg is not a good place for broad information. In fact for the most part, I believe that the stories that become popular and hit the first page really deserve to be there. Sometimes I get info I’ve never seen before, and I like that. Other times, I wonder why “12 good ways to peel your skin after a sunburn” is a good article. It seems that a a good amount of the articles that get the big old POPULAR tag and hit Digg’s front page tend to fall into a very common formula. Here’s the formula for the Title for your diggable article.
(some attractive number) ways to (do something)
(some attractive number) reasons why your (body part or bank account) is not (performing in some particular way) and how to (fix it, kill it, or eat it)
For craps and giggles, I did a check, just to see, on an odd number of “reasons” articles.
You know what makes this funnier, is that I only did the first search, and just replaced the number param in the url. Neat huh?
What’s especially hilarious are the “Holy Shit check this out” articles. Some winners in their boyo.
By this time, I was just feeling like I was in serious withdrawal. I open up Google just to look at it. I check my gmail, check my calendar, then log out and close my browser. Again, it was a busy work day, so I did not have a lot of search to do. But I wanted my last day to be something a little more than just petering out of this experiment. So I came up with some search terms that I was planning to search for as because my wife wanted some help. I tried Ma.gnolia again, and again, it just errored out. I tried the tags, and it took 47 seconds for the tag page I clicked on to load (if it did at all, same errors there as well). Sorry Larry, you have an AWESOME concept, but it’s just not working for me right now. Again, if I’m doing something wrong, tell me, but I don’t think that you want your application to perform like this.
So I go down the list
on three search terms that I figured where everyday affairs. I even looked for some of the beauty products I represent. In some cases, I found opinions about something somewhat related to what I was searching for, but nothing very relevant. Good discovery though. I can say that I enjoyed clicking through things that I found interesting. But I did not enjoy NOT finding what I was looking for.
I’m not sure how exactly to wrap this little puppy up. I mean, there are some obvious technical conclusions that have been pretty consistent over this experiment. There are some areas of life on the internet that you can construe as not suffering from a lack of search engines, like shopping. However, that’s not altogether a fair statement either. All the shopping comparison sites are exactly what they say they are, if all merchants could be in the program. If you use the tools at hand, you can compare prices and features for everything listed. Therein lies a different problem. Those sites that do not join the Pay Per Click program of the shopping comparison sites are out of the loop. How would know that you could save money on an item if the company that sells it for the best value doesn’t list it in your comparison shop of choice. That’s not to say you won’t find what your looking for, but it’s an exclusive search based on an economic segregation. In other words, it’s not all there.
General topic searches are somewhat ok via social networks and social bookmarking sites. On a certain level, topical references are easily found via the social sites. The biggest and most loved social knowledge site on the planet, wikipedia, did not escape my test. But as awesome as wikipedia is, it is still not the repository for the subjective information that occupies most search. Wikipedia has plenty of information, but lacks grossly for information on human curiosity concepts. I’ve faced it before, but not so grossly exaggerated as I did on wikipedia. You can find all the information you want on a Toyota Corolla, but you’ll never find a picture of a blue 4 door Toyota Corolla, or where you can see one locally. Just won’t happen.
I found that blogs are great source for information, as long as your on the right blog. I know that sounds simplistic, but in every sense of the word, it’s true. Blogs tend to be about one persons point of view on a subject, or on a given group of subjects, and these subjects are usually related to each other. For example, if I go to Todd Malicoat’s blog to search for a Florida Drivers Licens, I get bupkiss. Blog interaction is a total social experience, though for the most part, one sided. If you trust the authority of the blogger, then when you find a blogger that is exceptionally good at say, pick up trucks, the day your interested in buying yourself a Ford F150, you can probably find some good information on it from a blog, IF, someone actually took the time to write up about the truck, AND if you can find that blog. Can’t do it without a search engine though. So here is a long way to go to see if there is a blog with the specific info you found. Go to wordpress.com, search for Ford F150, see if any of the blog posts from the community make sense, read through a blog, maybe, maybe, if someone took the time out to review one or blog about their experience with one, you’ll find it. And maybe, maybe, if that person actually linked to a place where you can buy one, AND maybe, maybe, if that link is someone close by. Not for nothing, but do you see how fucked up that is?
And then there is the very real psychological ramifications as well. I mean, my original thesis was correct. Searching is in our nature, it’s a physical and mental act we do every single day of our lives. The search engines, I think, are the naturally occurring solution to the necessity. If I need to find purple doggy diapers, I can SEARCH for purple doggy diapers. I bet you a whole dollar that it will be HAF (you know what it means) to FIND that information via bookmarks. You might, but after hours of clicking and looking. One search on any of the SE’s, gets you instant gratification. And that act is empowering. A world of information is at your fingertips and no matter how you formulate your search, you get a pretty spot on answer. That’s an empowerment that we tend to take for granted.
You have a search engine in front of you, your EMPOWERED. You have the power in your fingertips to draw information on a GLOBAL level, or on a localized, specific level. When I intentionally gave that power up, I actually felt that loss. Some days I really did feel helpless. The power of the internet was gone. I lost it. I don’t have anything command over what happens in front of this typewriter with a TV on it. Trying to work without quick answers was difficult to say the least. Why did I ever start this?
Here is the short answer and the short ending.
I wanted to find out what it was like without search engines. Sometimes it was fun, sometimes it was most definitely not. Sometimes it was productive serendipity, sometimes it was useless info.
It was always “not what I wanted.”
The internet is still VERY powerful, but without search engines, that power is out of your hands.