industry news

As a journalist, you should search outside Google

There are no “regular results” on Google anymore. from DuckDuckGo on Vimeo.

Fascinating study by DuckDuckGo, a search engine company. One wonders whether it’s time for a reformation in search. It’s worthwhile also to check out the comments on the DuckDuckGo Vimeo page for the video linked above. The company has also created a web site – dontbubble.us – with more information about how Google is customizing your search results.

I admit that I have gotten into the habit of just typing words into the URL bar of Chrome or Safari (Firefox still has a separate search input in my version) and hitting the return button with the default setting to Google. But that needs to change. And for working journalists, that should definitely not be the default behavior.

As a journalist, there are definitely times when I want an impersonal search result. Sure, there are also times when I want a personalized search experience. If I’m looking for a cat grooming service, I certainly don’t want a service in Boca Raton, Fla. On the other hand, if I’m searching topics related to my beat, or a story I’m researching, I want a more “unbiased” sample of results so I can find what I want.

I’ve been trusting Google to give me those types of results. But that was a misplaced trust.

It would be nice if you could just flip a switch and turn off personalized search results, but apparently, that’s not possible, even if you’re signed out of your Google account. And I doubt Google will do anything to make such a thing possible.

Instead, I imagine what will happen is the result of the lemming effect, call it the ignorance of crowds. Google has become so synonymous with search that even if a minority complains, they will be powerless to change Google’s mind. “We have X billion happy customers,” Google might say. No, you have X billion customers who have little choice because you are the 900-pound gorilla of search and you’ve tried to invest yourselves into every nook and cranny of our lives. Facebook is the same way.

Which is fine in the marketplace of business. But this could have troubling implications for a journalists.

At a recent workshop, Mark Horvit of Investigative Reporters and Editors recommended always cross-checking searches across at least three different search engines. I’d recommend at least using Bing and Google and one other one. Try DuckDuckGo and see if that gives you other results. If not, there are other search engines to try.

I don’t have any personal interest in DDG, other than having a competitive market in the actual search itself.