This article appears in Wired. Here is an excerpt:
Google’s Aesthetic has always been rooted in a clean appearance—a homepage free of advertising and pop-up clutter, adorned only with a signature “doodle” decorating its name. Part of why many users love Google is its sleek designs and ability to return remarkably accurate results. Yet the simplicity of Google’s homepage is deceptively static. Overtime, the way that the corporation returns information has shifted ever so slightly. These incremental changes go largely unnoticed by the millions of users who rely on the search engine daily, but it has fundamentally changed the information seeking processes—and not necessarily for the better.
When Google first launched, queries returned a simple list of hyperlinked websites. Slowly, that format changed. First Google launched AdWords, allowing businesses to buy space at the top and tailoring returns to maximize product placement. By the early 2000s it was correcting spelling, providing summaries of the news under the headlines, and anticipating our queries with autocomplete. In 2007 it started Universal Search, bringing together relevant information across formats (news, images, video). And in 2012 it introduced Knowledge Graph, providing a snapshot that sits separate from the returns, a source of knowledge that many of us have come to rely on exclusively when it comes to quick searches.
As research has shown, much of these design changes now link back to Google properties, placing its products above competitors. Instead of showing just a series of blue links, its goal, according to official SEC documents filed by Alphabet, is to increasingly “provide direct answers.” By adding all of these features, Google—as well as competitors such as DuckDuckGo and Bing, which also summarize content—has effectively changed the experience from an explorative search environment to a platform designed around verification, replacing a process that enables learning and investigation with one that is more like a fact-checking service.
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