Google and the collapse of Western civilization

The Web is getting dumber by the minute -- and Google is largely to blame. We need smarter search engines, before it's too late

I've come to the conclusion that the end of civilization as we know it is indeed upon us. And I blame Google.

Though all search engines are at fault, Google in particular is contributing the most to the dumbing down of the Web, which in turn leads to the dumbing down of everything else. Eventually we'll get so stupid we'll forget how to feed ourselves.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Google's cracks are showing, as Cringely uncovers in "This blog has NOT been brought to you by an algorithm" | Stay up to date on Robert X. Cringely's musings and observations with InfoWorld's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]

I got to this state of mind after spending a lot of time looking at Google Trends. It gives you an instant snapshot of what Americans are searching for at any one time, distilled into a constantly shifting list of the Top 40. It's both fascinating and deeply distressing.

What do I learn by looking at current Google Trends? That Johnny Depp was named People Magazine's Sexiest Man Alive (once again, I wuz robbed). Lowe's Foods is running big specials on Pampers and bacon (hopefully used separately). And Fidel Castro is still not dead, despite what Perez Hilton says.

Here's the No. 1 Google Trend as I type this: nephelococcygia. It's a word made up by Aristophanes 2,400 years ago and it means "cloud cukooland."wes

Really? That's what America desperately wants to know about right now?

As the boys over at eSarcasm noted recently, Google Trends get even weirder. Apparently over the last week, a ton of people searched for heated toilet seats, flaming Care Bears, and parakeets with intestinal disorders. Go figure.

Here's what happens when some search phrase climbs the Google Trends charts: Every Tom, Dick, and Hairball Web site latches onto it, hoping to coast to some easy traffic by writing 200- to 300-word "stories" that are often nothing more than "hey, heated toilet seats are a Google Trending topic, isn't that odd?" Sometimes they're not even that sophisticated. It's all about who can get there first.

Why do they do this? Because it works. Despite the completely brain-dead, worthless waste of pixels that constitutes 99 percent of such posts, Google often rewards them with prime placement -- which translates into traffic, clicks, and money.

Because of that, it's not just the bottom feeders who are doing this. Mainstream sites see that surfing Google Trends works, so they rush to do it too. Some well-respected sites (including, ahem, some InfoWorld sister sites) have been throwing as many bloggers at a trending topic as they can in the hope that at least one of them will crest the Google wave and capture eyeballs.

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