No, you can’t Google everything (and you may not want to)

Not by a large margin.

It is almost boring to say that today, you have a all of world’s information in your pocket. That’s not true. The data revolution has a very long way to go (and it may be stopped, too, if people oppose it). Of course we can search for a lot of information, but there is lot more, black hole sort of, which is still missing, we just don’t think too much about it.

There are 2 ways we lack access to information:

  • Information not being captured
  • Information being captured, but not being queried

Information not Captured

This is simple. When was the last time you talked to a friend, say about Trump? Can you ‘google’ that conversation? All that is left now is yours and her memories (which can be faulty) of the talk. Before you think it’s creepy, realize that you can access your chat on WhatsApp or Gmail or Facebook Messenger though. On all kinds of platforms, chat can be accessed, if not effectively ‘googled’.

Another way information is not being captured is about emotions. How did you feel at a given moment, or after a given event? Now, this might be captured using smart devices, and a quite a few of them are in vogue. But many people don’t use them. And I don’t know if they can be easily mapped to other events, like, my fitbit can tell me I felt stressed last Saturday, but I have to do the hard work to figure out what else happened that time to increase the stress. All that is valuable information, not available.

Your bodily functions can’t be googled. When you take a blood test, you get the results after a day or two. But you can’t access those in real time, you can’t google your blood sugar or cholestrol. And this is critical information, potentially life saving. But this would also mean sensors inside your body, and that, you may not want, but it is quite possible that people in 50 years will be okay with that. After all, we are okay with getting into stranger’s cars.

Similarly, you can’t google inside big buildings like college campuses or big corporations. Google maps takes you to the building, but inside, you still have to find your way to that conference room, and that’s not always easy.

You can’t google micro parameters on pollution or air quality around you. Even if my phone knows exactly where I am, it can’t tell me what’s the air quality at that exact point in space and time. I know it’s extremely difficult and almost impossible, but it’s still useful information which I don’t have access to.

Information captured, but not Queried easily

By querying, I mean asking questions in a human way. For example, ‘Ok Google, let me know when was the last time I went for a 10,000 steps walk?’

Now this is even more ‘dumb’, you can’t query Facebook easily or intuitively, even when the information is there. And of course you can’t google Facebook, because facebook data is not available to google. You can make some searches, but say, you can’t simply ask   -which of your friends had a key life event recently. Or more specific, which friend got a promotion recently, even if they have that information on Facebook.

And then you can’t google inside apps. For example, you can’t do a google search inside a video game. I can’t google my Evernote notes. Evernote has powerful search functions, but not good enough. I can’t google Amazon for products.

I can’t of course google physical books I have or physical notes I take (unless I take snapshots and have a good handwriting which can then be recognized by algorithms – again, Evernote does a good, not great, job at this). Also, not easy to google inside research papers. Many are not accessible.

Back to chats. It’s exceedingly hard to query them. I can’t simply ask, ‘In the first week of October, what did my friend Alex tell me about eating Strawberries?’. This can be done with lesser effort in Gmail chats but somewhat harder in WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. You have to do a lot of work to find stuff in old conversations, and a lot of that is just lost, poof. Probably WeChat does a very good job here, but I have never used it, so can’t really comment.

Similarly, it’s very hard to google inside videos or audio (‘What does Jimmy Kimmel say about Donald Trump in his show in 2017?’) – though people are trying and it’s making good progress, and very hard to google inside photos – but here Machine Learning has made a lot of advances. A huge chunk of information lies inside these media. But current technology is backward.

Take another case, I love browsing Product Hunt to check out new cool products, but many times it’s really hard to find a great product. I don’t want to waste my time with random stuff. Many apps get upvotes and good ratings based on marketing, or initial positive reviews, but I want to know about the apps people are really using (apart from the meta answer about my similarity to these people, that is, do people who are like me, like it? And hence, will I like it?). It happens a lot that you try a new something and like it (great first impression), but then it sort of falls by the side. I want to avoid those apps. But there is no way for me to know, but this information is there, somewhere.

There’s more.

There are more barriers to information. For example, many times we have something on the tip of our tongue, but we can’t really articulate it. We can’t form a clear query. Of course there is no way to Google what you can’t even say you want to, and yet, you do want to know something.

Also, Google isn’t good enough (though of course it’s great, I am not putting it down, I can’t live without it). Many times I want a simple interface with a simple query. For example, I want to know the list of countries in order of their GDP per capita. Here google shows me a list of pages (unless I use the feeling lucky button), but I don’t even want that page. I want that list. Plain and simple. Like an SQL query. Again, not saying it’s easy and even if it’s good business for Google (they need to show me ads and stuff), just saying the search experience could be better.

Also, information grows, through all media. New sites come into being, this blog is being written now, more and more conversations are happening, on and off google’s products. This is another challenge for anyone who wants to solve search – how to manage all this growth in information?

Finally, there is the question of filtering information. Google might be able to give a LOT of information, but what is truly relevant, or meaningful, or useful? This is why Machine Learning is becoming so important – algorithms can filter information so much better.

But I am not sure if they are enough. After all, Google and Facebook had a lot of algorithmic power and still had a hard time in 2016 US elections. So we need to define and articulate our values, develop internal filters, so to speak, to get the right information.

And google can’t tell you your values either.


2 thoughts on “No, you can’t Google everything (and you may not want to)

  1. Pingback: You Need to become a Specialist – Curated Intelligence

  2. rhythimashinde

    This is true, but also I realized a very important thing – you cannot google critical questions. If I am thinking about something critically, there are so fewer people who might have thought of that particular thing that particular way: that it is impossible to look answers to some tough questions. This also relates slightly to the discussion you mentioned on how a great discussion cannot be googled.


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