Pluralistic: Too big to care (04 Apr 2024)

Today's links

A demon from Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights. It has a bulbous, tick-like body and the legs of a hoofed animal. Its ass is open, revealing a hollow space within, populated by other demons. A flag sprouts from its back. It has been altered so that its face is a Google 'G' logo and the flag bears a tiny Android logo. Its broad, flat hat is decorated the the 'shrug' ASCII art.

Too big to care (permalink)

Remember the first time you used Google search? It was like magic. After years of progressively worsening search quality from Altavista and Yahoo, Google was literally stunning, a gateway to the very best things on the internet.

Today, Google has a 90% search market-share. They got it the hard way: they cheated. Google spends tens of billions of dollars on payola in order to ensure that they are the default search engine behind every search box you encounter on every device, every service and every website:

Not coincidentally, Google's search is getting progressively, monotonically worse. It is a cesspool of botshit, spam, scams, and nonsense. Important resources that I never bothered to bookmark because I could find them with a quick Google search no longer show up in the first ten screens of results:

Even after all that payola, Google is still absurdly profitable. They have so much money, they were able to do a $80 billion stock buyback. Just a few months later, Google fired 12,000 skilled technical workers. Essentially, Google is saying that they don't need to spend money on quality, because we're all locked into using Google search. It's cheaper to buy the default search box everywhere in the world than it is to make a product that is so good that even if we tried another search engine, we'd still prefer Google.

This is enshittification. Google is shifting value away from end users (searchers) and business customers (advertisers, publishers and merchants) to itself:

And here's the thing: there are search engines out there that are so good that if you just try them, you'll get that same feeling you got the first time you tried Google.

When I was in Tucson last month on my book-tour for my new novel The Bezzle, I crashed with my pals Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden. I've know them since I was a teenager (Patrick is my editor).

We were sitting in his living room on our laptops – just like old times! – and Patrick asked me if I'd tried Kagi, a new search-engine.

Teresa chimed in, extolling the advanced search features, the "lenses" that surfaced specific kinds of resources on the web.

I hadn't even heard of Kagi, but the Nielsen Haydens are among the most effective researchers I know – both in their professional editorial lives and in their many obsessive hobbies. If it was good enough for them…

I tried it. It was magic.

No, seriously. All those things Google couldn't find anymore? Top of the search pile. Queries that generated pages of spam in Google results? Fucking pristine on Kagi – the right answers, over and over again.

That was before I started playing with Kagi's lenses and other bells and whistles, which elevated the search experience from "magic" to sorcerous.

The catch is that Kagi costs money – after 100 queries, they want you to cough up $10/month ($14 for a couple or $20 for a family with up to six accounts, and some kid-specific features):

I immediately bought a family plan. I've been using it for a month. I've basically stopped using Google search altogether.

Kagi just let me get a lot more done, and I assumed that they were some kind of wildly capitalized startup that was running their own crawl and and their own data-centers. But this morning, I read Jason Koebler's 404 Media report on his own experiences using it:

Koebler's piece contained a key detail that I'd somehow missed:

When you search on Kagi, the service makes a series of “anonymized API calls to traditional search indexes like Google, Yandex, Mojeek, and Brave,” as well as a handful of other specialized search engines, Wikimedia Commons, Flickr, etc. Kagi then combines this with its own web index and news index (for news searches) to build the results pages that you see. So, essentially, you are getting some mix of Google search results combined with results from other indexes.

In other words: Kagi is a heavily customized, anonymized front-end to Google.

The implications of this are stunning. It means that Google's enshittified search-results are a choice. Those ad-strewn, sub-Altavista, spam-drowned search pages are a feature, not a bug. Google prefers those results to Kagi, because Google makes more money out of shit than they would out of delivering a good product:

No wonder Google spends a whole-ass Twitter every year to make sure you never try a rival search engine. Bottom line: they ran the numbers and figured out their most profitable course of action is to enshittify their flagship product and bribe their "competitors" like Apple and Samsung so that you never try another search engine and have another one of those magic moments that sent all those Jeeves-askin' Yahooers to Google a quarter-century ago.

One of my favorite TV comedy bits is Lily Tomlin as Ernestine the AT&T operator; Tomlin would do these pitches for the Bell System and end every ad with "We don't care. We don't have to. We're the phone company":

Speaking of TV comedy: this week saw FTC chair Lina Khan appear on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. It was amazing:

The coverage of Khan's appearance has focused on Stewart's revelation that when he was doing a show on Apple TV, the company prohibited him from interviewing her (presumably because of her hostility to tech monopolies):

But for me, the big moment came when Khan described tech monopolists as "too big to care."

What a phrase!

Since the subprime crisis, we're all familiar with businesses being "too big to fail" and "too big to jail." But "too big to care?" Oof, that got me right in the feels.

Because that's what it feels like to use enshittified Google. That's what it feels like to discover that Kagi – the good search engine – is mostly Google with the weights adjusted to serve users, not shareholders.

Google used to care. They cared because they were worried about competitors and regulators. They cared because their workers made them care:

Google doesn't care anymore. They don't have to. They're the search company.

Hey look at this (permalink)

A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Why URL shorteners suck

#15yrsago Heinlein’s house for sale

#15yrsago Game industry exec celebrates 60+ hour work-weeks

#15yrsago Nine year old’s survey project excluded from school because he learned some people don’t think of themselves as male or female

#15yrsago Help save Bruce Sterling and Jasmina Tesanovic from US immigration hell!

#15yrsago Pneumatic tube-based systems — the real series of tubes

#15yrsago Berlusconi declares war on the press

#10yrsago Private equity, an infection that is eating the world

#10yrsago UK Tories call for a national of slaves

#10yrsago Daniel Ellsberg to keynote HOPE X in NYC this summer

#10yrsago Yahoo beefs up security in two meaningful and important ways

#10yrsago The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation, a nuanced and moving history of race, slavery and the Civil War

#10yrsago Britain is turning into a country that can’t tell its terrorists from its journalists

#10yrsago Stop-and-frisk as the most visible element of deep, violent official American racism

#10yrsago David “Debt” Graeber evicted, implicates NYPD intelligence, claims revenge-harassment for OWS participation

#10yrsago Open net gets a huge boost in the EU: net neutrality and no roaming fees

#10yrsago Cats of Tanglewood Forest: illustrated modern folktale from Charles de Lint and Charles Vess

#10yrsago House Science Committee: a parliament of Creationists, Climate Deniers (and dunces)

#10yrsago Big Data has big problems

#5yrsago 540 million Facebook users’ data exposed by third party developers

#5yrsago Elizabeth Warren proposes holding execs criminally liable for scams and data breaches

#5yrsago How EFF’s Eva Galperin plans to destroy the stalkerware industry

#5yrsago After years of insisting that DRM in HTML wouldn’t block open source implementations, Google says it won’t support open source implementations

#5yrsago After months of insisting that #Article13 doesn’t require filters, top EU Commissioner says “Article 13 requires filters”

#5yrsago Notices at Intel press event seem to say attending photographers must assign copyright to all pictures and videos to the company?

#5yrsago Patagonia tells banks and oil companies that they can no longer buy co-branded vests

#5yrsago Talking about Radicalized with the CBC: Privilege, atavism, techno-realism and seizing the means of information

#5yrsago News organizations have all but abandoned their archives

#5yrsago After Christchurch shooting, Australia doubles down on being stampeded into catastrophically stupid tech laws

#5yrsago A rapidly proliferating software license bars use by companies with poor labor practices

#5yrsago “Open source” companies are playing games with licensing to sneak in proprietary code, freeze out competitors, fight enclosure

#5yrsago Fear that far-right terrorists will stage attacks if Brexit is canceled

#1yrago Elizabeth Warren on weaponized budget models

#1yrago The problem with economic models

Upcoming appearances (permalink)

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Recent appearances (permalink)

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Latest books (permalink)

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Upcoming books (permalink)

  • Picks and Shovels: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about the heroic era of the PC, Tor Books, February 2025

  • Unauthorized Bread: a graphic novel adapted from my novella about refugees, toasters and DRM, FirstSecond, 2025

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources:

Currently writing:

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS JAN 2025

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

Latest podcast: Subprime gadgets

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