Google, Help Me Know What I Don’t Know

It occurred to me that I don’t use Google the way I used to just a few years ago. I remember using Google, Yahoo and Dogpile (I’m showing my age here) to actually find “new” stuff, sometimes plugging random keywords, hitting the ‘lucky’ button and seeing where it might take me. This was, however, waaaay back in the day, when the web was in it’s infancy; small and unsophisticated enough to delve through fairly successfully with a basic search tool like Google.

Now I know referring to Google as a “basic search tool” is like referring to Mt. Fuji as a pretty good sized hill. Don’t get me wrong, I know Google has been an extraordinary pioneer in web search technology, but there is something lacking. Sure, I’m generally able to find what I’m looking for but, that’s it – and I’m kind of over it. Forgive me if I’m starting to sound a bit like Veruca Salt, but I want more. I need, dare I say it, a bit of omnipotence, and I know that Google is the only one out there with the ability and the opportunity to make that happen.

Honestly, I don’t think I’m setting the bar too high. If Target can predict when I’m pregnant just from looking at my rewards card data, surely Google can predict a whole lot more. Despite the roll out of all new ranking algorithms, and the seemingly endless variety of Google products I use daily, they are seriously falling short on one major platform: finding the things I don’t yet know I need. Let’s be really honest here too, we know they can do it. So what’s the hold up? Are they worried about creeping us out, because at this point I’m pretty sure that those of us still Googling away have just come to accept the old panopticon and we are ready to take it to the next level start reaping the benefits.

Think of what they could be doing for us with the information they have. To be quite honest, I’m just disappointed. At this point, Google has enough information on me that they can pretty much predict exactly the right day of the month to sell me chocolates and Motrin, and they can efficiently monetize that resource. All issues of data mining and privacy aside, all I can think is, “Man, what a waste,” It’s like Superman using his powers of flight to open a pizza joint, or using his x-ray vision to move up in the ranks as a TSA agent. Lame. Small potatoes lame. Yes, small potatoes, targeted advertising may be making Google a mint right now, but think of how much more they could be doing. How much more ingrained into our lives, (and thus more valuable) they could be given what they know about us.

For those of us ready to opt in, Google data mining could provide an incredible window into who we are and what we really need. On a basic level it could just help us find the things we didn’t know we needed. So I mentioned in the beginning that I don’t use Google to find “stuff” anymore, and I don’t. It’s not as fruitful as say, Reddit, where I can tailor a “front page” feed of news and content I want to see everyday, or Pandora, who actively seeks out and offers new music to me based on what they know I already like. Granted, Google does offer a personalized search option, but it’s pretty meh. All it does is reduce the rank of things I haven’t yet shown any interest in, which, in my opinion, makes my searches less effective and not more efficient. Google also offers an alert system, which is more on track with what I’m looking for, but misses by a long shot because you have to proactively request each unique alert. If I don’t know what to put in an alert for, then it really doesn’t help me know what I don’t know.

I want a more holistic approach. I want my optimized ads to not be ads at all, but little gifts and suggestions just for me. For example, Google knows what bands I like. They can easily mine that data based on my Google searches, my Youtube history, shows I have checked-in at and even from my calendar and the content I share with Google+, or my public history on other social platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Now wouldn’t it be nice if Google looked at my profile and said, “Hmmm, she really likes bands on the Temporary Residence label,” and automaticly created a little alert for me when new records come out or a tour comes to my area. Perhaps they could display the alert where they normally display my optimized ads.

This may sound counter-intuitive because advertisers are paying to be in that space. Why would anyone in their financially sound mind reduce the amount of advertising space they get and fill it with free advertising for non-paying entities? Perhaps because it would make that advertising space all the more valuable. You see, I don’t look at ads. Feel free to scoff, but I don’t. Most regular web users don’t either and studies show that ad space online is generally not a great investment. What if that space actually had a few tidbits of “reliable high quality content,” to quote Matt Cutts, blended in? I would look! Heck, I would open an entire page of these suggestions and peruse the entire gallery ads and all. I would go back to Googling for fun just so I could tweak the quality of my suggestion gallery, kind of the same way I tweak my Pandora account. I would also invest considerably more into Google Adsense campaigns and suggest my clients do the same.