We all know about the ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ button. It dates back as far as the time when most of us didn’t feel so lucky when it came to our chances at getting the search result we wanted.
For those who don’t know, the concept is simple — it takes you straight to the top Google result for whatever you type, saving you the search results screen, and the average 0.44 seconds that it takes to load. Time is money!
These days it’s pretty reliable and also doubles up as an ‘Easter egg’ if you click it without entering any search term. (We won’t explain what — try it and see).
But here’s the thing; Google has only ever had two primary search buttons in its entire history. Think about what that means, and what opportunity that poses. What would the impact of another button be?
Inspired by a documentary
The line of thought was triggered by the Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma.
In it, former Google employee Tristan Harris recalls a time where he pitched the idea to Google that the sheer magnitude of the decisions they make have huge consequences, even if unintentional, or unconsidered:
“Never before in history have 50 designers… made decisions that would have an impact on 2 billion people. Two billion people will have thoughts that they didn’t intend to have because a designer at Google said this is how notifications work on that screen you wake up to in the morning.”
Harris suggests that the most innocuous things can have huge knock-on effects simply due to the unprecedented number of people companies like Google have influence over every day.
It’s not a million miles from nudge theory — the idea that design ‘architecture’ (the systems we all live by) can be carried out in a way that encourages us to behave positively. In the context of something like a pension plan, the ‘nudge’ might be automatically opting everyone in, unless they say otherwise, encouraging them to make what is seen as a ‘positive decision’.
Thaler and Sunstein (the creators of Nudge Theory) give a similar example: “Nudges are not mandates. Putting fruit at eye level counts as a nudge. Banning junk food does not.”
The upshot of Harris’ theory is that Google making the smallest change (moving a button or changing a process) that creates a ripple effect that alters multi-millions of lives (literally). One second of extra time it takes to perform a task because of a button shift could collectively cost ‘the world’ millions of hours of productivity due to the number of users. He also opines that it is also difficult to make the developers and decision-makers understand what they are really doing. Perhaps this is for the best — after all, overthinking things like this could equally cause huge problems, or be utilized for ill gains.
Giving Google its due
While there’s a whole industry (SEO) dedicated to figuring out how best to take on Google’s algorithm, much still remains shrouded in a veil of mystery. Of course, that’s not to say SEO doesn’t work. Certain vectors, like domain and page authority, are (rightfully) going to make a huge difference, and the more backlinks you have the stronger the likelihood you’re a trustworthy site. I’m not here to debate SEO. My point is more straightforward. If elements of the Google algorithm weren’t (at least in part) top-secret, or known only by very few individuals, there simply wouldn’t need to be an industry for beating it.
In The Social Dilemma, Sandy Parakilas says:
“There’s only a handful of people at these companies… who understand how [the AI/algorithm] systems work, and even they don’t necessarily fully understand what’s going to happen to a particular piece of content so, as humans, we’ve almost lost control over these systems.”
In a world with no SEO mystique, there would be a pamphlet of how to make Google love your site, everyone would do all they could, and… what next?
I expect a similar kind of hierarchy would develop for other reasons, based on other factors. So maybe it has to be shrouded in mystery, at least to a point. If Google reset its entire directory tomorrow (putting everything back to 0), we’d, in all likelihood, end up in exactly the same place again. Because Amazon, Facebook, YouTube, and the like would still be the sites most people are seeking, and so they would rise to the top like they never left.
My point is, while there’s only one system, it will always be imperfect because there isn’t just one type of search we want to perform. So often lately, I’ve wanted to find a very specific piece of information, and instead of finding sites that have the answer, I’m bombarded with better-ranking sites that answer a more commonly asked question. The precision is lost from the search because of the higher-ranking sites.
Introducing the ‘Shake It Up’ button, next to ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ and ‘Google Search’. Google, if you want this, it’s gonna cost you, by the way!
Let’s imagine an alternative algorithm working alongside the regular one — this one is programmed to omit the top retailers, news outlets, and other homogenized content, and instead uses other key metrics (I’ll let the programming gurus figure out what these are) to bring less-well-ranking sites to the top of the results.
Rather than showing you the same old results in the same old order, it randomizes results from the first ten-or-so pages to present you with perhaps less popular ones from smaller websites, but ones that score highly in other areas — perhaps newness, or information density, or a site that’s followed by many but doesn’t rank because of Google’s dominant measuring scores (domain and page authority).
You’d hit my new ‘Shake It Up’ button when, like me, you have quite a specific query that Google might shortcut into a more commonly asked one, or simply when you want to hear from other voices. It works on a psychological level because we inherently trust the top Google results the most, and this new metric will still champion what it believes is the best content (simply using a different set of parameters), not to mention that over time it can learn the most popular content when the ‘Shake It Up’ button is used, creating its own data.
What about integrated Google search bars?
I know what you’re thinking — integrations like Google in our Chrome or Firefox search bar, and even on-site Google searches mean few of us even go to the Google homepage to perform searches anymore.
But let’s come back to the magnitude point again. Even if only 0.01% of Google searches a day used the ‘Shake It Up’ feature, that’s still around 56 million searches per day (or 20.4 billion a year). What difference could that make to the rankings of smaller sites?
Also, once Google started to accumulate data for these 20.4 billion searches, they could easily use this as an attributing factor to their main algorithm. So, sites have another metric that can contribute to (not only their ‘Shake It Up’ success, but also) their overall performance. ’ searches.
Where would you use the ‘Shake It Up?’ I’ve thought of a few examples here:
- Reddit-style opinion pieces (that might exist on smaller sites)
- Reviews of the people (rather than critics)
- Homemade recipes (rather than celebrity chef dominated results)
- Jokes or riddles (fun things to do)
- Local points of interest (holidays from people who have been before)
- To find cheaper products and services from less well-known vendors
Basically, hidden gems from other humans. Less so, corporations but perhaps both depending on your search. But also, if this button existed, we’d all find other ways to use it. Basically, we’d give it a go when Google didn’t give us what we asked for as an alternative.
Issues with a life dictated by algorithms
The problem with algorithms is they’re ‘thinking by numbers’, and over time, this creates a snowball effect resulting in homogenization. Gradually, it narrows our vision and champions only a few sources of information. It also neglects to take into account some of the more human qualities when we search for new things. What I mean is, we don’t judge everything on how many people go. Sure, we love McDonald’s, but it’s not all we want.
By number-crunching everything, they take away individualism from choice. When we walk past an idiosyncratic cafe on the street, some of us will think ‘absolutely not, I want Starbucks’, and some of us will want to try something new, experience a less commercial ambiance. In a figurative sense, it’s the small cafe we aren’t seeing on Google.
Also, there’s potentially a legacy problem here. The web is still very young in historic terms. But what, between now and the year infinity, is going to stop the likes of Amazon from dominating Google results? Over time, their success becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. One that perhaps only some kind of intervention will put pains to.
‘Shake It Up’ is just one idea
If you still don’t see the point of ‘Shake It Up’, or think my idea is a waste of a button, think of it as a metaphor for anything else. What button do you want to see next to ‘I’m feeling lucky’? As I mentioned earlier, the real problem is thinking that one search method (for arguments’ sake ‘algorithm’) is all that we need. Maybe Google could let you choose from 10 algorithms in a drop-down — each one bringing up results based on slightly different site scores, and adjust the playing field that way instead. The possibilities really are endless.
Giving more choice is seldom seen as a bad thing, and in this case, the button is a choice — an option to pick when you need it. It isn’t foisted on anyone or spelling an end to classic search results. In this respect, surely the only outcome for small businesses and individuals could be positive?
Are there any other buttons you’d like to see on Google, or improvements you could make? Comment below. Also, want to discover how you can use Google (as it is now) to maximum effect? Check out our blog.
What if Google added a new button? .