When you search for a product, service or topic in the news, the first search result on Google increasingly will take you to sites that were created for the purpose of getting you to click on them. The content looks genuine but is almost always of lower quality and is sometimes dangerously inaccurate and misleading. Google and Microsoft executives and other experts agree that there is a huge amount of spam created every day, with one estimate putting it at more than 1 million pages per hour.
Should — or can — the government do anything to stop this pollution of the Internet? Absolutely not. As Google’s search results become less relevant, other search engines, such as Blekko and Microsoft’s Bing, are emerging. Blekko offers “curated search” that allows users to retrieve information from human-curated sets of Web sites on specific topics such as health, finance, sports, technology or colleges. If you are looking for information about swine flu, you can search merely the top 100 relevant health sites rather than tens of thousands of spam sites. Reliance on proven judgment is a known winner online: One reason for Facebook’s popularity and growth is that people are more inclined to trust the recommendations of their friends than those of Google.
Vivek Wadhwa is Vice President of Innovation and Research at Singularity University and Arthur & Toni Rembe Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University. His other academic appointments include Harvard, Duke and Emory Universities as well as the University of California Berkeley.
Eventually, future technologies are likely to make all of these search engines obsolete. Increasingly, we use specialized applications that run on mobile phones and tablets. When we search for restaurants, we go to sites such as Yelp and Urbanspoon for recommendations. Newer generations of applications will automatically analyze the recommendations of our friends and take us directly to the site we are looking for or the service we desire, such as making a reservation. We won’t need to rely on the types of text links that Google provides.
Government has no place in this technology jungle. It shouldn’t be trying to tell Silicon Valley how to develop its products or how to make money. Instead, the role the government should play is to keep the poachers in check. It needs to take a close look at the secondary markets, which allow private companies to sell their stock to uninformed investors. This, in turn, has caused the valuations of companies that are now going public to become inflated beyond all reason, and created a bubble that, when it inevitably bursts, will hurt the entire technology industry. That is the real worry — not whether YouTube ranks higher than Vimeo on Google’s search results or whether you use Flickr or Instagram to share photos on Twitter.