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Google and the Truth

October 11th, 2010 | Bob Rosner

Image: Bob RosnerRecently I had a chance to interview a former top executive for Google. She was wicked smart, insightful and clearly thought three or four steps ahead.

I kept grilling her about what the average person should know about online searches. We spent a lot of time on such topics as phrasing the searches correctly, a series of tricks you can use to make for a better search (for example putting quotation marks around the key words) and a variety of tools that Google has to help that most people don’t know anything about.

Then she dropped her bombshell. I was asking her what is the one thing that we don’t understand about Google searches. Okay, it was what I consider a fishing expedition question. An outrageously open ended question that 10% of the time generated an interesting insight, but far more often gave me a chance to catch my breath and think of anything else I needed to ask before the end of the interview.

Even though I heard her answer, I made her repeat it twice. Okay, I think that’s just about enough buildup.

“Google searches aren’t about the truth, they’re about what’s popular.”

Google has fancy algorithms that simply scour the web to see what is the most popular site in terms of the search that you requested. Most popular.

It’s as if your high school math teacher didn’t give you a positive grade for the correct answer to a problem, the highest grade went to whoever predicted what the rest of the class would pick for their answer.

Popularity contests work great for high school homecoming contests, political races and impulse purchases at the counter of a grocery store. But for our information based economy, betting our entire future on what’s popular is risky. Heck, it’s dangerous.

Google is clearly popular. The question for the rest of us is can the company consistently get it right?

About The Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

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