By Harry McCracken | Friday, November 21, 2008 at 8:03 am
“Have you ever wanted to mark up Google search results?,” begins a new post at the Official Google Blog. “Maybe you’re an avid hiker and the trail map site you always go to is in the 4th or 5th position and you want to move it to the top. Or perhaps it’s not there at all and you’d like to add it.” The post is introducing SearchWiki, a new feature that lets you rejigger Google’s results by shuffling sites around and adding ones that aren’t there.
What it doesn’t ever do is explain the benefit of doing this tweaking. If you’re an avid hiker with a beloved trail map site, what are you doing searching for that site in the first place? Wouldn’t it make far more sense to simply bookmark it rather than game Google’s results? And why doesn’t SearchWiki do the one thing that would make the this search-massaging ability make sense–which is to let other people see your customized results? (If I were a hiker, I might be very interested in receiving results that have been edited by other savvy hikers.)
SearchWiki does include a useful-sounding feature for adding annotations to search results; those notes are viewable by other folks. But I worry that its benefits are outweighed by the clutter it will add to Google results. Google, a company that famously limits the number of words on its home page to twenty-eight seems to be veering away from its fanatical dedication to minimalism and usefulness.
Then there’s last month’s Mail Goggles, a Gmail feature that makes you do math problems when you send email late on night at weekends to verify that you’re not schnockered and about to humiliate yourself with a drunken missive you’ll come to regret. It was unveiled with a blog post from its inventor telling us about his motivations for creating it:
Sometimes I send messages I shouldn’t send. Like the time I told that girl I had a crush on her over text message. Or the time I sent that late night email to my ex-girlfriend that we should get back together.
TMI, my friend…
Mail Goggles is available only in Gmail’s Labs proving-grounds section, and it’s disabled by default; if you find it pointless and infantile, it’ll never get in your face. But it still rankles me, somehow–it’s like seeing a gifted friend piss away his talent.
Ultimately, SearchWiki and Mail Googles have nothing in common except this: They both make me worry that Google is short on good ideas, and is therefore devoting its unimaginable resources to not-so-good ones. The company rolls out new services and tweaks to existing ones at such a breakneck pace that I get paranoid that I’ll miss something if I leave my keyboard for a few hours. But I can’t imagine any Google fan–and I count myself as one–believing that the quantity of new stuff that emerges from the Googleplex is more important than its quality.
True, much of what Google comes up with is still good, great, or even transcendent. I like Gmail’s Voice and Video Chat, the new iPhone Mobile App, and Google Earth for iPhone. The LIFE photo archive on Google Image Search is downright dazzling. And Chrome brings some genuinely new ideas to Web browsing.
But am I alone in wondering wheher it’s time for Google to take a deep breath, slow down, and smother more of its employees’ 20 percent ideas before they ever reach the light of day?
(Full disclosure: SearchWiki doesn’t seem to have been enabled for my Google Account yet, so I haven’t tried it. I’m prepared to try it, like it, and issue a public apology here if need be.)