Adam Rogers is a senior tech correspondent at Insider – and he’s been thinking and writing about what’s known in the industry simply as “search.” For the last decade, people have been grumbling about not being able to find things online, both in our private data and on the public web, despite ever-evolving algorithms. Ever since humans started writing stuff down, the struggle has been in how to organize it all so that its contents wouldn’t be lost in the stacks. Search has always been an attempt to fix that problem.
And long before we could search for things online, Google was essentially a person: a reference librarian. If you wanted to find something on, say, growing vegetables – you could go to the gardening or farming sections of the library. But in all the thousands of books in that huge section you’d quickly get overwhelmed. That’s where reference librarians and archivists come in. They’d take your topic and help you narrow it down even further, applying their own nuanced knowledge and specialized training to help you search better and find exactly what you’re looking for. That’s how search operated for centuries – by topic, mediated by human to human interaction.
Once the web started spawning search engines, all of that began to change, largely for the better, at least initially. But even in the early 2000s Google started getting bogged down by monetization and people trying to game the system.[…]