Why I Hate Google, Twitter, and Facebook

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

I am a blogger. It is my job to blog, which I’ve been doing on a daily basis since 2003. Reading and writing is what I do all day. I’m lucky to be able to survive doing it, and I’m happy to be doing it[1]. I hate Google because it tries to make me a stupid reader. I hate Twitter and Facebook because they make me a stupid writer. I’ve been wanting to get this off my chest for some time, so allow me to explain.

Let’s where I start, with reading. As a blogger, I need to process and filter enormous amounts of newsworthy content hours a day, every day (as does Yves). I am like an enormous baleen whale nourished by krill. So here is how the insanely stupid and wasteful Google News helps me — and you, dear readers! — do this:

(I’ve erased the Weather box at top right, which is Google’s little way of letting me know it’s tracking my location even though cookies are off.) First, look at the page, which is a complete screenful on a laptop (i.e., on the screen of professional content creator who values his time, not a teensy little cellphone screen). In the news links column at left, there are a grand total of nine (9) stories. Please, can we get the steam-era list of blue links back, where we could scan 30 or 40 headlines in a single second’s saccade? And note the sources: CNN, HuffPost, Fox, WaPo, NBC News, NPR, CNN, and the WSJ. This is an ecoystem about as barren as my neighbor’s lawn! (And if you click on the laughingly named “View full coverage” link, you’ll see a page just as empty and vacuous though slightly less barren, with more obcure sources, like Reuters. Or Salon.) You will also note the obvious way in which the page has been gamed by gaslighters and moral panic engineers, who can drive every other story off the front page through sheer volume Finally, you’ll note that the fact checkers include organs of state security, in the form of polygraph.info, “a fact-checking website produced by Voice of America (VOA)​ and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.”

Now let’s try to use Google News for search. (I find Google proper, though still crapified, better for news, especially if I limit the search by time.) I chose “start treaty,” for obvious reasons. Here is the results page:

Yes, on a complete, entire laptop page, there are in total five (5) hits, 3 from the impoverished ecosytem noted above, and one from an organ of state security (RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty). The last hit, from Vox, is twelve (12) days old. Surely there’s something more current? Note also the random ordering of the hits: Today, yesterday, 6 days ago, 2 days ago, 12 days ago. (There is, of course, no way to change the ordering.) A news feed that doesn’t organize stories chronologically? That doesn’t surface current content? What horrible virus has rotted the brain matter of the Google engineers who created this monstrosity? And one more thing:

Famously, the normal Google search page ends with “1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Next.” Crapified though Google search results are, if you spend some time clicking and scanning, you’ll generally be able to come up with something useful five or ten pages in, maybe (if you’re lucky) from a source you don’t already know exists. Not so with Google “News.” When the page ends, it just ends. When the algo has coughed up whatever hairball it’s coughed up, it’s done. No more. Again, this is news? What about the same story a week ago? A month ago? What does “our democracy” have a free press for, if Google gets in the way of being able to find anything?

So, the Google News experience is so vile and degrading in its stupidity and insolence that I use another tool for reading the news: Twitter. And despite its well-deserved reputation as a hell-site, Twitter — carefully curated — does the job, as long as you don’t ask too much of it, like news that’s more than a month or so old. My beef with Twitter is not as a reader, but as a writer. Here is how you create a tweet in Twitter:

I’ll have a sidebar on those miserably inadequate writing tools, at left, in a moment. For now, look at the bottom right: Those disruptive Silicon Valley engineers have innovated the paragraph:

When you click that plus sign, you get… A second Tweet, connected to the first, in an easy-to-close-accidentally modal dialog box!

Here, I remind you of the steam age of Blogger, where you could — hold onto your hats, here, folks — create a post, composed of paragraphs — or, if you were a poet, lines; or an artist, images and captions; or an accountant, tables — all with at least some degree of “flow” and ease. You could even have subheads, to divide your content into sections! The billionaire brainiacs at Twitter have managed to create that first, minimal functionality — the paragraph — but without the ability to re-arrange, or even to edit your paragraphs after posting! Does Jack laugh alone at night?[2].

Sidebar. Here is what an editor that is not miserably inadequate looks like. A real editor:

Yes, readers, a tiny blog like this one — whose only virtue is an ability to take scalps in the financial industry — provides, as you can see, far better writing experience, with more powerful tools, than Twitter (or, as we shall see below, Facebook). Tags! Now, bold and italic tags I can live without (unless I want to treat them as implicitly semantic tags for headings and titles, respectively). But the paragraph (<p>), link (<a>) and (<blockquote>) tags enable you, as a writer, to express your critical thinking skills and provide evidentiary back-up for the claims you make, exactly as footnotes — perhaps Humanities’ greatest invention — do in works of scholarship. Indeed, when I was a mere prat, in 2003, debunking the last great gaslighting episode our political class ginnned up, they enabled an editorial formula that we called “the media critique.” The formula looked like this:

<p>TOPIC SENTENCE] with <a>[LINK TO MAINSTREAM MEDIA]</a></p>

<blockquote>[ABSURD CLAIM BY MAINSTREAM MEDIA, LIKE “ALUMINUM TUBES”]</blockquote>

<p>CRITIQUE AND DEBUNKING OF ABSURD CLAIMS] with <a>[LINKS TO EVIDENCE AS NEEDED]</a></p>

Rinse, repeat. (You can see the same structure when Yves tears apart a CalPERS presentation.) Twitter (and Facebook) make the media critique difficult or impossible because they don’t provide the edit tools to make it easy. (The tags are not in a toolbar. The platforms don’t even recognize them when you type them in.) Do you think there could be a reason for that? This wouldn’t matter so much if countless thousands of writers — activists and organizers, especially — didn’t use Silicon Valley platforms for their work. But they do. How well is a movement without the tools to write critically going to do? A question that answers itself once asked.

End sidebar. Now we turn to the loathesome Facebook, which I haven’t used for about a year, thankfully. Here’s the login screen:

OK, cookies to sell me to data brokers, I get it. And apparently I’m not the only Facebook expat, which I for one find encouraging. Now to Facebook’s editor:

As you can see, it’s as miserably inadequate as Twitter’s and for the same reasons, technical and (no doubt) political[3]. But to a writer Facebook is uniquely insulting and degrading, first because the big type of the default text and the small size of the edit box both drive me to post material that’s not even short form. Worse is the space devoted to an entire menu bar of buttons for cute backgrounds, instead of a menu bar of writely tools, like links, and blockquotes, and paragraphs. And you can’t even drag the modal dialog box bigger!

* * *

What frosts me above all else is the disrespect that Google, Twitter, Facebook show to their billions of ordinary users. All readers should be empowered to research as deeply as they like. And all readers should also be empowered to become writers, and powerful edit tools that enable the expression of critical thought should be made available to them. Democracy is good! But the squillionaires of Silicon Valley think very, very differently.

NOTES

[1]For a brief, shining moment from 2003-2006, the then (liberal/left) “blogosphere” thought it could replace the mainstream media. That moment died when a critical mass of top bloggers decided they wanted to join the media, not replace it. Some of us soldiered on.

[2] One can argue that Twitter is meant for short content. So why the plus sign?

[3] Many brain-damaged programmers believe that content is data, without internal structure, which can be dumped into a database field. The engineers who butchered Twitter and Facebook’s edit tools probably thought that way. And don’t @ me that doing the right thing would be h-a-a-a-r-d. These guys are the ones with the billions to crack the problem, including performance.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

83 comments

  1. Zachary Smith

    Amen to the part about Google. Once upon a time I could start a Google search with a high probability of finding something useful. These days I have to darned near know the result before I’ll find anything. Google News used to have a dense list of news stories. I don’t have a bookmark to the place anymore, relying instead on blog headlines and the like.

    Since I’ve heard nothing good about Facebook I’m agreeable to the notion the site isn’t something for me. Never tried “tweeting” and have no plans to do so.

    Reply
    1. Carolinian

      I agree that Google search is not as good as it once was but it could be that the web itself has changed with far more commercial and bubble gum content. There was a time long ago when only nerds used computers.

      But I don’t agree that Google News was ever very useful. Google always admitted that it was edited by algo and it seemed to be a kind of Headline News news summary–the opposite of what a hard core news junkie would want.

      RSS is still around and IMO the most useful tool for keeping track of a large number of websites. For off the beaten path links that may not show up on a favorite site there are websites like this one (thanks Yves and Lambert and Jerri-Lynn).

      Reply
      1. Yves Smith

        To your first point, no.

        I find Google regularly overriding specific search terms, particularly when I put in a short phrase in quotes, which means Google is supposed to deliver results that match that exact phrase. First page, even the very first result, regularly violate the search criteria. Never happened before ~ 2 years ago.

        Google in recent years has optimized for:

        1. Shopping

        2. Recency

        3. “Authoritativeness” of sites. The latter criterion, as interpreted by Google = MSM above all. Academic sites get downranked too.

        Reply
  2. David May

    So much truth here. Similar story with YouTube: even though Jimmy Dore Is my most watched YouTuber by a long shot, notifications for new vids NEVER, ever, ever appear in my notification thingy or at the top of the page. Never. Google engineers are braniac math scientists (as Jimmy Dore might say), so this is a feature, not a bug. This is deliberate suppression. Inverted totalitarianism.

    Reply
    1. Arizona Slim

      I’ve noticed the same thing. I have to go to Jimmy’s channel in order to learn what’s new.

      Reply
        1. David Carl Grimes

          I can attest to the same thing. And when I type jimmy on the search box, I always get jimmy Fallon as the first option even though I constantly search for Jimmy Dore.

          Reply
    2. Jeff W

      YouTube, for whatever reason, splits the functionality into two parts: subscribing and notifications. If you “just” subscribe, you will not get a number badge indicating a notification at the top right of your YouTube page—you have to click the “notifications bell” in order to get notifications.

      On the YouTube Settings | Notifications page you can also choose to get email messages regarding notifications and choose some other options regarding notifications for YouTube activity. On that same page, if you click Manage all subscriptions (which is buried in the text under Channel subscriptions), you can see all your subscriptions and which ones have the bell clicked or not.

      If you click the hamburger (three bar) icon on the upper left, next to the YouTube logo, that toggles a pane where you can see your history, your subscriptions, your settings and some other things. Even if you haven’t clicked the notifications bell, you can see, under Subscriptions, the number of not-yet-watched videos you have, listed by individual channel you’ve subscribed to. (That’s how I generally know that there is a new Jimmy Dore video since I am subscribed to the channel but I don’t have notifications turned on.)

      All of this is such poorly implemented usability that I hesitate to call it deliberate anything but I won’t discount it, either.

      Reply
  3. Jim Haygood

    As of September 28th, Alphabet (a/k/a Google), Facebook and Twitter will join an all-new Communications Services sector. Its core is the old Telecommunications Services sector, which has shrunk to but three companies in the S&P 500 (Verizon, AT&T and CenturyLink).

    Also joining Communications Services will be media and cable companies — a full roster of corporate villainy, as it were. The complete list of 22 constituents appears here:

    http://www.sectorspdr.com/sectorspdr/sector/xlc/holdings

    A Communications Services ETF is already trading in advance of the sector’s official debut in September. Owing to the exit of seven current Information Technology stocks (including Alphabet, Facebook and Twitter, the targets of Lambert’s ire) and 16 Consumer Discretionary stocks (including Comcast, Disney and Netflix), these sectors will change in composition on Sep 28th.

    In this exclusive chart, the new post-Sep 28th sectors are backcast as if they all existed today:

    https://ibb.co/n9C1KJ

    Communications Services had been lagging the S&P 500 until last month, when government approval of AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner set off a frenzy in other media stocks which might be bought or merged. With Alphabet and Facebook making up 44.3% of Communications Services by weight, these two giants will tend to dominate its performance.

    Reply
  4. diptherio

    The future is federated. Individual instances, hosted by whoever wants to set one up, that can link to each other, for a fully customizable experience. I like Mastodon (a bird-site replacement), and my particular instance at social.coop, even though it doesn’t have any of your writerly tools either. But it’s open source, so the ability to add them is there:

    https://mastodon.social/about

    PeerTube also seems to be taking off, as a federated video sharing platform.

    Reply
  5. LDK

    Lambert, you can get back your Old Google News format (pre-AI change) by using this link instead as follows: https://news.google.com/news/feeds?output=rss&q=%
    It doesn’t take away Google’s attempt at controlling our information flow with its new AI Gnews format… But it should help you get your blue links & sections back ;) – with the caveat that you can’t click on said headlines/sections’ “see real time coverage” (in which case you go back to our Ministry of Information’s AI approved interface). However you can expand on the little down arrow next to each headlines… and click on the working links.

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      That’s less insane, though all the other issues remain.

      Funny to think all this crap is just larded on top of good ol’ RSS. It’s like one of Clive’s banking systems

      Reply
  6. Fred

    If you are letting algorithms decide what you watch or read, you are basically giving up. At least use a search engine like Duck Duck Go and never read the news on FB or Twit.

    Reply
    1. False Solace

      Duck Duck Go has its own news section which I’ve used a few times, and it seemed to have way more links than Lambert’s screenshot of Google News. Don’t know what sites DDG includes but maybe it could be an alternative.

      Reply
    2. BoulderMike

      Sadly though I find the same problem with DuckDuckGo. Meaning, it returns the results it wants, rather than what I asked for. Even if I ask for results from the past week I get stuff from 8 years ago. And if I ask for something like Stereo Speakers I get things like “speakers at this years conference ..”, etc. Just pure garbage. And the key complaint I have is that Amazon shows up every other result for page after page. If I search for “how to best fertilize tomatoes in Colorado”, I get a result showing tomatoes available on Amazon.com. And at the top of every search is a “ribbon” of results from Amazon almost exclusively and with “Prime” in the results box. I hate Amazon and wish I could never see that word again, or the words Jeff Bezos. Sigh.

      Reply
      1. Richard

        I have the same issue with DDG. My understanding is that it is not different from Google in terms of search results, but simply that it won’t surveil you:
        Their ad campaign: “Same s*&$ results as Google, but no one will know you’re looking!”

        Reply
        1. Hepativore

          What about Qwant? I do not like how it feels it has to open links and images in a separate tab automatically, and it takes forever to load images, but I have heard good things about the search engine.

          Reply
        2. Fred

          The big difference is that if you visit a site often Google will put that site at the top of the list. DDG doesn’t know what you like so that doesn’t happen. You can test this out by searching “Trump” in Google and then DDG.

          Reply
      2. Nlowhim

        I’ve been using other methods like -siteihate.com or site:.edu to find papers etc on a topic. For geopolitics I try to find a human rights group nearby to see what they say. News is hard to sift through

        Reply
    3. Procopius

      I don’t do Twitter, thank you, but Facebook has News? Hoocoodanode? It’s not something I would ever think of using, but one of my friends (who is always threatening to unfriend me) once ranted that she knew the Russians interfered with our election because she saw the bots and memes. When I asked her how she knew a bot she never answered. She’s a solid Russiagate cult believer. I suspect she must get her news from FB.

      Reply
  7. FlashFlud

    I’ve noticed it’s really, really tough now to find via Google any serious, longform blogs on investing, energy, etc. Almost everything that comes up when I search a topic is a listicle/clickbait, a Salon article, some horrible startup platform with only 10-50 active users, or something locked behind a paywall.

    I always thought the best metaphor for this is the end of the “Old West” – all the territory is fenced off and none of the owners want you trespassing on their land. I actually do think the best internet tools were all de-centralized – “federated” as one of your commenters put it.

    For instance, wasn’t it great when you could make an RSS feed out of literally any series of sites and just click on what you find interesting? Granted, I still think that’s possible but I don’t see nearly as many websites pushing that compatibility anymore. Instead it’s all SEO and racing to be “discoverable” by the big platforms. Information, writing, and the exchange of ideas have suffered as a result.

    Reply
  8. Dave

    I’ve been very happy since switching to Duck Duck Go. Occasionally I can’t find something and think, “I’m going to actually go into google.com and see if it runs a better search” and it almost never does.

    To me the more interesting point here is Lambert’s second/third one, which is that, although both Twitter and Facebook decry the rise of fake news, their format is an especially hard one to write a nuanced critique in. It’s difficult (if not impossible) to put a string of URLs in a Facebook post without actually putting the whole jumbled up 200-character strings of the URLs in – instead of just hotlinking a word! – and you can’t format headings, sections, and subsections easily – so any discussion just basically devolves into “No, read this!” “Well, read this!” “What about this!”, etc. And they don’t always post comments chronologically, or in an order I can make sense of anyway, so you can’t follow the ongoing discussion clearly anyway.

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > they don’t always post comments chronologically, or in an order I can make sense of anyway

      It’s almost like they’re trying to destroy any possibility of a decent discussion.

      Reply
  9. bob mcmanus

    Interestingly, as apparently the default, Firefox gives me a drop down list of “Latest News” headlines (? at least 50) which are I think entirely from the Guardian and BBC. Not great, too much human interest and soccer scores, and the articles are too often small or video, but god knows better than NYT and WaPo, and I can and do go on from there to the rest of the Guardian site. I don’t know if that is configurable, if I could replace it with al-jazerra, Asia Times or RT

    But I also have Jacobin Naked Capitalism and Counterpunch in quick buttons and I spend my time there. Should nuclear war start, I would want analysis before headlines. I am content with being a few days or week behind.

    Reply
  10. GERMO

    Gahd yes — thanks for this post.

    When Google News changed to whatever it is now I stopped using it entirely. It’s not an aggregator in any sense at all, to me. I used to use Google as the home page and hit up the news page and felt like I had a newspaper to go with my morning coffee. It’s ludicrous now. I just go directly to NC links and watercooler actually, and find my way around from there and from my local online paper. “Sad!”

    Reply
    1. JCC

      Google News has been slipping for a couple of years now, and has gotten exceptionally bad since it deployed the new layout. I now check it once or twice a week at the most and mainly just to read the headlines in order to find out what I’m supposed to believe.

      The first site I open every morning is this site, read the articles of the titles that catch my interest (most) and then settle in with a cup of coffee or two and the Links Page.

      The only serious problem I have with Naked Capitalism and its Links Section is that I’m often late for work as a direct result of opening the Links page (which reminds me, It’s getting near my semi-annual donation :-)

      Reply
  11. Tinky

    This is a good opportunity for me to get something off of my chest, something that infuriates me.

    I don’t know what entity is responsible for designing the auto-correct function in (most, if not all) internet comment fields, but the result is shockingly bad.

    First, it is fundamentally flawed. When the system offers a possible correction, it should allow the user to ignore the suggestion and continue typing. Instead, having implemented the tool completely backwards, it forces the user to close the suggestion, resulting in an obvious waste of time. The arrogance of assuming that the program is likely to be correct is compounded tremendously by the fact that – unbelievably – it does the exactly same thing for words that are capitalized!

    I am dumfounded that anyone could be so stupid as to implement a program that attempts to correct proper names.

    The fact that those involved in the initial design haven’t yet discerned these obvious flaws, and there hasn’t been widespread outrage over this issue, reflects very poorly on all involved.

    Reply
    1. ambrit

      I can attest that I usually run into spell check functions with abysmally poor vocabularies. (I just noticed that ‘spell check’ has connotations of Ye Darke Artes.) I have become inured to leaving those wavy red underlines in place when I ‘post’ a comment.
      As for stupidity….

      Reply
      1. Tinky

        Yes, those which simply underline words in red are fine. It is the auto-correct versions to which I refer.

        Reply
      2. Amfortas the Hippie

        I knew something was up when every embedded(i guess) spellcheck i ran across couldn’t spell Nietzsche and insisted that i always capitalise walmart(and cease using cambridge spelling immediately!).
        i usually ignore the red squiggly, too
        the worst was a samsung phone my wireless company gave me as an “upgrade”. the text function had a “learning” spellcheck/autocorrect that you were supposed to just keep using so that it could eventually figure out what you were trying to say…so at the beginning, every single word opened up a sort of square flower thing of unrelated(as a rule) words.
        it was impossible…I gather more so due to my habit of using archaic and obscure language…and after you disabled it, it turned itself back on.
        as a convenience.

        Reply
    2. Ur-Blintz

      d’accord!

      …but you have to admit that sometimes it’s funny. today my phone kept correcting “detente” into “dead aunt”.

      Reply
      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        Nice to see the Hacker’s Dictionary quoted. It’s a wonderful resource, and a reminder that not all programmers suck (just the ones riding scooters to their regulatory arbitrage start-ups in Silicon Valley).

        Reply
    3. rfdawn

      Agree entirely. Alas, it is often not the “program” doing this. My ipad has a popup touchscreen keyboard (courtesy of iOS) that tries to enforce English spellings in every text-entry situation including non-English webpages. As Lambert says, hilarity ensues.

      Reply
    4. Gregorio

      Spell check creates a whole new world of problems when one routinely types in more than one language.

      Reply
      1. barefoot charley

        My smartypants phone has detected me reading Voltaire (copyright-free Kindle for sitting and waiting) and decided when I stammer texts to communicate with under-50s that I must be speaking French. So my word-salads are bi-lingual. But the youth of today don’t think I’m erudite, they think I’m crazy. Dunno why, monolingual stammering isn’t much better. But unless I get a Trump-style thumb job, I can’t type on my telephone (which is as it should be, but I’m so old I remember when people answered their phones).

        Reply
  12. Mark Gisleson

    I did a C-list version of what Lambert does during that golden period of blogging he mentions. He doesn’t really give enough shrift to the amount of time he spends reading each day, and it would be impossible to know how much effort goes into his interpretive remarks that all too often spare me the bother of reading establishment tripe.

    This is the gold standard for aggregation blogging: ample links, clarifying remarks, snark. Reading this blog turned my old blog into a watered down version of this blog. I stole a lot from Lambert Strether because he does this better than anyone else. (Pro tip: don’t steal from crappy writers)

    I suspect Robot Wisdom as a prior influence, but now we’re talking super old-timey stuff.

    Reply
    1. ambrit

      I detect the ‘Cold Dead Hands’ of Addison and Steele. Also somewhat an influence arising from the Spectre of an old dead Scot.

      Reply
    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      [lambert blushes modestly].

      Never read Robot Wisdom! I came in after that point. I first encountered the blogosphere when Paul Krugman mentioned Atrios in one of his columns and I went to look. And that was that. I was unemployed at the time, and spent most of my time reading blogs instead of looking for work…

      Reply
  13. Richard

    Thanks for including labeled screen shots in your critique of FB, Goog, Twit. For those of us who don’t use those sites, it really helped comprehension.
    Great post. I guess there really are a million ways to discourage people from thinking clearly, including bs silicon valley editing tools.

    Reply
  14. Hayek's Heelbiter

    Amen! Amen! Amen!

    I’m re-writing a historical romantic drama that i first completed in 1985, set mostly in Paris and Vienna in the 1870s. I did major rewrites in the 1990s for a major star, who soon got a contract to earn tens (or maybe hundreds of times) what a low-budget art house film would have paid and promptly walked the project. As soon as your star is gone, your project isn’t one of the walking dead, it’s totally graveyard dead.

    The Internet was just coming into its own in the mid-1990s, and I have dozens of pages of incredibly useful research material I downloaded from the web.

    Fast forward to 2018, and a studio is again interested in the project. But it wants the script rewritten from the female protagonist’s viewpoint.

    I again turned to the Internet to research the era.

    Guess what?

    No matter what set of keywords I use, no matter how I structure my Boolean searches, I get hundreds and hundreds of links to commercial sights, advertisements for Viennese and Parisian stores popping up left right and center.

    Out of 100 links, maybe one has useful information.

    Fortunately, not yet having had an intervention on an episode of HOARDERS, I managed to locate in a mislabeled several thousand pages I photocopied from out-of-print books on the subject.

    God bless the Brooklyn Public Library and their hard-working Reference Desk librarians. There’s a special place in Heaven for them.

    Reply
  15. Synoia

    The engineers who butchered Twitter and Facebook’s edit tools probably thought that way.

    Engineers do what management tells them to do.

    Reply
  16. lakecabs

    I noticed when I looked up Elon Musk Mars trip. I went through page after page of links to how great it was that he launched a car into outer space with no reference that he actually missed Mars.

    Then again on this submarine fiasco.

    Reply
  17. Milton

    I do things the old-fashioned way by compiling feeds from a list of 15, or so, sites into a js reader on my website. I don’t use Google at all and have no use for any corporate website. What I will do, however, is browse the yahoo news stream just so I can get a feel of the day’s mood but I never follow a link. The only site that I visit not via my news reader is NC.

    Reply
    1. JCC

      Never heard of that one before now. I just checked it out… all the news promoting Cold War 2.0 right at your fingertips… at least that’s the way it looks tonight.

      Reply
  18. MsExPat

    I’m deep in the pit of learning about SEO optimization, and I can tell you that Google’s search algorithms–together with Google AdWords–are to blame for the lousy quality of Google searches these days.

    Google gives priority to websites based on:
    t1) site speed (which means that unless you pay extra $$$ for superior hosting and upgraded cloud services, your site will drop in the rankings. And hey, guess who owns one of the fastest worldwide cloud hosting services? Google.)
    2) Rules that force you to write “stupid” (or at least with zero flair and style) in order to get your website onto the first page of a search. The keyword has to be right up top, the header and meta-text have to be written just so, and within a character limit. You can’t be arch or subtle or creative. Break a rule and you get no mercy from Google’s ranking algorithm. You’re just buried in the back.
    3) Speaking of back, Google prioritizes sites and pages for backlinks, that is, for other sites that link back to your website or article. While that may seem to be a way of pushing quality websites to the top of a search, in actual practice this backlink thing is a game. My site has backlinks from the New York Times, CNN, National Geographic, Conde Nast Traveler, and a host of other very authoritative high quality sites. However my competitor has a greater NUMBER of backlinks from more domains, and that counts for more, even though the links are from unknown travel bloggers.
    4) Finally, the biggest drag on Google Search is the ads, which can take up the first half of the page before you get to a “real” search result.

    It occurred to me the other day that scrapping or saving Net Neutrality may not really matter all that much. Google is so powerful that effectively they function like a commerce gateway, keeping out small businesses and websites that can’t afford to hire the expensive software engineers and experts that you need nowadays to tweak and craft your site’s backend so that it will show up in a Google search. Not to mention the added cost of fast hosting servers.

    And the time suck of having to become familiar with all this stuff just so I can stay alive as a business!

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > And the time suck of having to become familiar with all this stuff just so I can stay alive as a business!

      It’s almost like the relations of production are holding back the forces of production

      Reply
    2. NJroute22

      For real – it’s gone down the crapper almost entirely.

      One blog we started in 2005 was a gold mine for five to eight years. Then the revenue tumbled – for no logical reason to us. We were dissed. Maybe we didn’t change the keywords or whatever to “keep up with the times,” but good original content that wasn’t pop culture or groupthink was shunned.

      Fast forward to 2018, as we try to start up another new blog (this time promoting on the top four major “social media” sites), it’s been tough going.

      It seems that people don’t want to find interesting, common sense oriented, critical thinking based content anymore.

      If you’re not talking about some utterly useless celebrity or bone-headed politician or dreadful sad story – no one cares to exercise those wonderful abilities they have to contemplate and reflect anymore. Deep thinkers are a dying breed.

      Even searching for simple things on Google has gotten horrific.

      I’m with others here. RSS reader (we use InoReader – awesome). When you stumble on a quality site – instantly subscribe. Your own curated “timeline” or “newsfeed.”

      Read all the articles on those sites you subscribe to, because they often link to other quality sites you can add to your museum of good publications.

      Even if they’re not exactly your ball of wax – keep them anyway. Not every post has to be up your alley.

      The independent publisher with unique thoughts is an endangered species. Not because we’re dying off – but because they’re trying to kill us off via financial starvation.

      There has to be a change of the tide eventually. Hopefully before it’s too late.

      Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      My Twitter feed is extremely carefully curated. I do not subscribe directly to the usual sources (like CNN, etc.)

      So I hear about a story only when someone I trust brings it to my attention, not when they do.

      In addition I have a large number of quirky people with a wide skillset.

      I originally joined Twitter to follow Black Lives Matter. It was invaluable, and not only because I got news and images I could get nowhere else, but because Black Twitter is really neat.

      Reply
  19. The Rev Kev

    And this is what happens when we let billionaires control what we see and do on the net. I have been a newshound for years and use to go through Google News and then a few favoured sites. These days I have reversed it around as Google News has become so crappified, so stripped of content and so cumbersome to use that I have switched it around.
    As for Facebook and Twitter – not on your nelly though I know lots of people have to use it for professional reasons or for staying in contact with groups that do not have a presence elsewhere. The past several years I have found that I visit a lot of Russian sites as I tend to find more news of interest there which five years ago I would have found weird. The times they are a changin’.
    Want to know what the future will be like. Take a look at the following clip from the film “Rollerball” – the first one – and you will see. The main character goes to visit the world computer for information as all of it is stored there. Upon arrival he finds that the computer has “lost” all the information on the 13th century in talking to the lead scientist. Here is that clip of our future-

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmTWhvWgST0

    Reply
  20. polecat

    Haven’t EVER used twits or bloodfunnelbook, and quit bevil when I saw the devil’s pitchfork get way too lucky !

    Reply
  21. Procopius

    I hate the “editor” in Facebook, too, but because there’s no way to format anything. That big type you call their default? That goes away when you type three lines or so. It’s only been there a couple of years and I don’t know what they were thinking of when they added it. Why can’t I choose my type size? Why can’t I make text bold or italic? NC at least has those options. Other blogs let me enter most HTML formatting tags. Those “disruptive” engineers must be pretty weird people. Why would I want my post to be in HUGE type if I’m only posting one or two lines?

    Thing I wanted to ask, how do you make google search time periods. Is that something they’ve added? A few years ago, after many people entered “I have the same question” they admitted they had no way to do so. Is it something you have to use advanced search for? Because I think I remember seeing something there, but I haven’t used it for many years.

    Reply
    1. hunkerdown

      That feature can be found under Tools → Any time, in the toolbar on the results page under the search query.

      Reply
      1. JBird

        I just checked Google. I could be missing it. What I do see is simpler, less precise, and not as useful as the previous time period search. I use to use to be to chop off precisely the exact dates I wanted searched. For example any articles, websites, or just news on the Humbolt Squid from 1/1/1984 to 1/2/1986.

        If I missed that option please tell me as it was useful.

        Reply
    2. JBird

      Procopius,
      Yes, your memory is fine as Google did make it fairly easy to search periods of time and to use Boolean search terms. Brief tutorials and instructions easy to find. Googleborg has been getting less useful for using the interwebs but it is easier to find stuff to buy. Strange is it not?

      Lambert,
      When I think about the crapification of Google et al I also think about the siloing of economics, political science, history and other fields, which are stripped of anything considered extraneous, and reduced to dry misinformative stats, formulae, and over simplied stories. Going from the broad interconnected field of anthropology to what is misleading labeled “economics” is like going from a real forest full of life to a museum diorama consisting of some ratty stuff animals, plastic plants, and some awfully painted background and being told both are comparable.

      I think what used to be political economics, but now just economics, was still not broad enough but the current field of economics had everything not describing and validating neoliberal capitalist free market economics removed. Adam Smith’s own complete writings would get him labeled a socialist. I cannot think that the deliberate, and it was deliberate, to simplify away all inconvenient facts, ideas, and theories from what is laughing called economics so that only a few pre-approved answers to the approved narrative is like Google, Twitter, and Facebook’s near uselessness.

      Reply
    3. Dave

      I was actually working with FB (as a vendor) when they implemented that big-type “feature”. They were concerned that it was becoming almost mandatory to include a picture with your posts – essentially every ad on the site has a picture, links to articles and most any URLs automatically include a picture, and users were including more and more pictures themselves as most people switched their Facebook time to smartphones. As a result, if you posted a short, tweet-length text only message, it was easy to miss. So they inflated the font size to make short messages take up a similar amount of space as longer ones or ones with pictures.

      It’s not my preference at all, stylistically (especially with those hideous colored backgrounds) but, well…A/B testing told them it resulted in increased eyeballs on those short posts.

      Reply
  22. Tomi

    Facebook demanding you to enable cookies is not only for the advertisers, but it’s required by the server so that it can do some essential things that are required to deliver an interactive web page. For example when you try to post a message on Facebook your browser will send a request to Facebook server. That request must be accompanied by the cookie so that server knows that the request came from you and not from someone else.

    If you don’t want cookies tracking you, you can still enable them, but you can delete all cookies before you close your browser. Many browsers will allow you to automatically delete cookies when you close the browser.

    Reply
  23. Temporarily Sane

    Have you tried Feedly? Until 2013 it was owned by Google (where it was known as Google Reader) but it was actually a decent piece of software so of course they had to get rid of it. IMNSHO it leaves the competition in the dust and is still, by far, the best news aggregator available.

    Reply
    1. NJroute22

      I tried Feedly in the past – didn’t rub me the right way. As I said in a previous comment – InoReader works for us perfectly.

      Why Google got rid of their Reader is a good sign they are evil.

      Reply
  24. Skip Intro

    I am officially adopting the policy of understanding the word “check” in “fact check”, to have the same meaning as when it is used in the context of ice hockey, i.e. “Isikoff checked the facts for his new book so hard, they were carried off unconscious, and remain in a coma”

    Reply
  25. SubjectivObject

    for me, anyway
    “What horrible virus has rotted the brain matter of the Google engineers who created this monstrosity?”

    all such anomalous characteristics are intentioned features

    Reply
  26. William Hunter Duncan

    I blogged on blogger for 5 years, after which I had maybe 200 hits a day, most of which were bots. Unless you googled my full name, the blog would never be listed.

    Facebook was never meant to be anything but a ghetto, to put people in pens to make a few people rich rich rich.

    Twitter was always about making people twits. See: Trump, Hillary-bots, the sports/movie/tv complex….

    These days I write long poems by hand, lol.

    Reply
  27. ObjectiveFunction

    Great piece, it reminds me of Edward Tufte’s classic “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint”.

    Of course, in spite of ET’s popularity as a corporate tent revivalist, packing hotel ballrooms at $250 a seat, there’s been no interruption in the steady dumbing down of communication, both written and graphic.

    Reply
  28. Oregoncharles

    While I’m here, I just want to thank NC’s designer for the big orange “up” button, which I will use in just a minute to go back to the list of articles. Just a small convenience, which I appreciate; as is the list of articles that stays in place at the top.

    Reply
  29. Scott1

    Damnit. My comment disappeared.
    I ended it asking if Naked Capitalism would become financially secure were it to own its own Servers that operated for profit regardless of content supported?
    IT professionals Serve the Servers.
    Drug dealers don’t have to advertise.
    Servers don’t have to advertise, is what I thought.
    I read the article. I read the comments. An idea appears above my eyes
    between my eyebrows. ‘Am I right or am I wrong?’
    I love Naked Capitalism. Thanks

    Reply
  30. Yojimbo

    If you have access to a linux machine you could try using ‘surfraw’, a program developed by Julian Assange (still actively developed I believe) that can search for results from 100+ search engines/domains (including some news agencies) and display this in your browser.

    But if I were in need of the quantity of information you have described I believe that I would actually write a script around ‘surfaw’ that would accept a list of search terms and periodically access multiple engines and output the links to a file in simple html or text format. Then you could open this in a browser when needed.

    Also DrudgeReport.com contains tools that you can use to directly search the news wires but I have not used it.

    Reply
    1. Zachary Smith

      I don’t know anything about Linux except how to install it. Surfraw installed easily enough, but then what? A DDG search said each search had to be done in the Terminal, and provided an example which I could modify. It looks to be an improvement so far – I could force a page of 100 Google results for the first time in many years.
      Thanks

      Reply
      1. Yojimbo

        I’ve put together a little script and some sample files that will show how this can be automated to produce pages of links by topic and engine that can be viewed in any browser. It was written on Linux but should work on Mac OSX provided that bash is installed. I don’t use Mac anymore but it should be available as part of Darwin ports. The links are as follows:

        search.sh
        search_terms.txt
        search_engines.txt

        Just open each and copy and paste to a file of the same name in the same directory. The file search.sh is fully documented and it should be easy enough to get up and running. The other .txt files are just for testing purposes; you can put whatever in these files.

        The end result is a set of local disk html files with just the top links to other sites that are related to your search terms based upon multiple search engines/terms. With this you don’t need the browser interface at all to collect search data; you only need it to view data.

        As a word of advice I would not use this too frequently or some search engines are going to block you. Google is one of those, although you can get much the same information from ixquick if this happens.

        Maybe Lambert, who’s work I really appreciate, could benefit.

        Reply
  31. Frank Gilkeson

    I am surprised that no one has mentioned memeorandum.com. I have been using it to read the news for 10+ years. It has a custom list of sources. It might be possible to get the author/owner to fork it and allow you to create your own list of sources.

    Reply
  32. Whiskey Bob

    I find it strange that even technologically capable people fall into the same traps wrt reading the news from the same few sources and believing state agendas. They may read a news site about high level science topics and then go full Russiagate when the relevant topic shows up.

    I think in Sillicon Valley’s attempts to get people engaged with each other, they ended up having people forced into the giant authoritative silos of information curated by the elites. Of course those silos don’t want people questioning the system and only want them thinking what they want them to think.

    Instead of letting discussions grow organically, they are confined within narrow systems and ruled by algorithms, a cybernetic manifestation of our current bourgeoise democracy where capitalism narrows and rules democracy. Breaking this horizontal censorship is going to be a tough nut.

    Reply
  33. sierra7

    We forget one of the greatest sources of knowledge: the public libraries and books, books, books and of course enormous racks of publications. Depending on the internet for all your “news” is tantamount to making pasta without the spices needed. Gathering knowledge about anything is not easy. Too many want it to be easy and they end up with a glob of gray clay without any color. I have been “reading” for more than 50 years…..more than 40-50 books yearly with countless publications added. It has served me well over those years to be able to discern the real from the theater….especially in politics. Gathering knowledge is hard. Slowly but surely TPTB are closing off the ability of the common folk to get printed information that is reliably sourced and bibliographed. When all books are converted to “data banks” those data can be continuously changed to follow the line of the ruling classes and obliterate history. Too bad!

    Reply
    1. polecat

      It’s looking like there may be a viable niche for scribes and monasteries going foward. Just need the right ‘theology’ to give things a push.

      Reply
  34. Hayek's Heelbiter

    I know this horse has left the stable, but tonight, I was at my local pub, the barmaid, a Phys Ed major working on her doctorate told me about Google Scholar, which I had never heard of.

    Go to Google and type in Google Scholar and you get a wealth of articles and NO advertisements. Very useful.

    Reply

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