Recent research suggests that Facebook is overtaking search engines in terms of “time spent” on the web. Want to see where the trendline is heading? Take a look at young female Facebook users, who spend as much as 5 hours on the site per day—and almost no time on the wider web. You’d better get your brand’s Facebook page in order.
As Lucire is largely made up of female users, the above is borne out on some days, where we receive a handful more referrers from Facebook than from Google.
The other component to this may be Google itself. Now, this isn’t a dig (as I am wont to do this year). But here at work, we’re noticing that in order to ﬁnd something, we might employ two search engines and not rely just on Google.
As I pointed out, there are things that Google just cannot ﬁnd, even when freshly linked from, say, this blog.
It all seemed to start from the days of the supplemental index, where Google hid some pages that it had crawled from the main index. This seems fair enough: the majority of searches must be connected with the Zeitgeist (a word Google itself uses when describing a month’s search-term trends), and would be about a current event. Older pages, which contain historical information, only serve to get in the way.
But what of the researchers? I’ve posited once before that the web is, at its core, a research medium, and (the old) Google contributed to some degree to that notion. If you’re hunting for something, especially if you’re a student, the web is your ﬁrst port of call. However, if certain pages are now hidden from view, then a search engine might not be your best bet any more. You might Tweet your request, use your social network to see if a peer or a “friend” has the answer, or, Heaven forbid, you might go ofﬂine to ﬁnd a credible source.
Mark Kirby, who wrote the Fast Company entry, notes:
What’s most important about this behavior, from a brand marketing perspective at least, is that when many of these women needed to look something up—information on a venue, or a band, or a consumer brand—they were more likely to look ﬁrst for information on the site where they were already spending all their time: Facebook.
The idea that young women are spending time on Facebook, and spending less time on any other site on the web, isn’t that big a surprise. Many of us have set up presences there: the latest, when I clicked through on Lucire ads today, was L’Oréal USA. It is a site that some trust, despite its callous attitude to privacy and the law. (Again, this was a prediction I made, not referring to Facebook, some years ago: that people would start ﬂocking to trusted brands on the internet again. It just so happens some people trust Facebook’s brand, even if I don’t.)
We’re also creatures who like our busy lives to be as crap-free as possible. Remember email? Once upon a time, there was no spam. Everyone who we were connected to via email, we wanted to be connected with. Often, these were people with that same, idealistic outlook we ourselves had. People with like minds. Not always friends, but certainly people with some connection to us. They might be what we term a ‘friend’ today, in Facebook or MySpace parlance.
Cities that have experienced decay might be another parallel: remember how there was less crime? Remember when you could walk down Street X more safely, before the crims took over that neighbourhood? (I hear variants of this frequently from my British and South African friends now.)
And now look at the web. Fake, automated blogs (such as those promoted in the image at left) are set up just to trick people into visiting so their owners can make a few bob from Google Adsense. (Don’t believe me? Head into Google Blog Search and have a poke around: the phonies are taking over the index. This was the sort of disease that plagued Vox before Six Apart shut it down.) No wonder publishers are doing Ipad apps and the like, where they can be assured of some quality control, and no wonder we are spending time on Facebook, hopefully to lead spam-free lives. And no wonder Technorati, which once was a powerhouse when it came to cataloguing blogs, is so very 2000s now.
As with so many things, Google’s web search probably needs to return to its roots. PageRank is useful, but then, so is a good old-fashioned analysis about how honestly a site has done its meta tags and provided its content. Or perhaps the bofﬁns at Mountain View can develop a method, beyond PageRank, to determine a site’s legitimacy. (I’m sure they’re already working on it; they’re doing their bit to get rid of splogs, even if many legit ones get caught up in that. Ironically, fewer splogs would probably exist if Google did not have its Adsense programme, which provides advertising income to low-trafﬁc publishers.) It’s still a bit better than my current search engine favourite, Duck Duck Go, when it comes to interpreting the terms that are fed in (it groups them better, though it still makes mistakes), but the web, as we knew it, may be heading the same way as email. It’s there, but it’s just not the best hang-out in town.
That might be the task of “the next Google”—the new venture that’s going to come in and deﬁne the 2010s just as Google deﬁned the 2000s. The one engine that’s more capable of weeding out the splogs, able to spot the human-authored spaces. The new site that will save us from ourselves and the crap that now goes on to the internet. The need seems to be there.