I swore off Google for a week–here’s what happened

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I swore off Google for a week–here’s what happened

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Google has so ingrained itself into people’s everyday lives that Merriam-Webster classifies it as a verb. “Google” is synonymous with “search on the Internet,” despite the web being a massive aggregation of information and videos and music and whatever can be put into digital form. Google is just one website of, quite literally, millions.

Nobody needs to memorize URLs anymore, much like nobody needs to memorize phone numbers anymore. Fire up Google. Input a keyword. Bam.

Believe it or not, dear readers, there was a time (the olden days, no doubt) when information came to users via phone lines and Yahoo Search was the hottest place on the ‘net. Google launched in January of 1996 – Yahoo, in 1994. Both search engines predate every student at HHS by at least a year.

For that reason, it’s impossible for most people to imagine a Google-less Internet. There are lesser known search engines out there (Yahoo, Bing, Ask, etc.), all of which have tiny userbases. They’re made the laughing stock of Internet forums. They’re cast off as inferior without a second thought.

That begs the question: Do they get a bad rap because Google is exponentially more popular? Or do they get a bad rap because they’re, well, bad? I decided to take a trip to the ‘90s to find out.

 

Yahoo

Old habits die hard. I did a Google search for “Yahoo,” then reminded myself that using Google was cheating. So, I proceeded to type “www.yahoo.com” into the URL bar. Here we go.

The sheer amount of stuff on the Yahoo homepage is astounding. Instead of trying to replicate Google’s dead-simple landing page, the folks at Yahoo decided to cram the most links per square inch that they could without giving their users a collective epileptic seizure. Why, look at all the things to click! There’s mail, finance, dating (which, by the way, brings you to match.com), a news carousel, recommended games (ooh, Bejewled!), horoscopes, comics, weather, sports, trending searches… The list goes on.

Given a little anonymity and an Internet connection, people will post practically anything, including ‘why is Twitter so confusing to use!?,’ ‘I forgot how to eat pie?,’ and, my personal favorite, ‘was Abraham Lincoln really a vampire hunter before he became president?’”

To top it off, there’s a big ‘ol advertisement, front and center. Yahoo has found its target audience – people who can’t get enough links. I presume the entirety of their funding comes from ad revenue.

The search feature is functional, which is nice. At least they don’t fail in that regard.

After doing some basic searches, I found that Yahoo peddles their services a lot. Both Google and Yahoo will get you relevant results. The difference is this: Google will put the relevant stuff first, whereas Yahoo will put some Yahoo Answers tripe first. When I do a search for “global warming,” I’d rather see some info from a reputable source than read a non-scientist attempt to explain what it is.

The upside to seeing Yahoo Answers results everywhere? It gives you a massive ego boost. As it turns out, given a little anonymity and an Internet connection, people will post practically anything, including, “Why is Twitter so confusing to use!?, I forgot how to eat pie?,” and, my personal favorite, “Was Abraham Lincoln really a vampire hunter before he became president?” If you’re feeling remotely insecure about your intelligence, Yahoo has you covered.

My major gripe about Yahoo is the way links function. When you click on a link to a website, instead of loading the site within the current tab, Yahoo will open an entirely new tab. Pretty soon, I ended up with fifteen unwanted tabs.

My last Yahoo search (with any luck, forever) was simply “Bing.”

 

Bing

In 2009, Microsoft decided it needed to get into the search engine market. It was a fairly gutsy move, considering that Google had eaten all the other search engines for lunch in the early 2000’s. So, Bing said, “Tough luck, Google! Here comes the king of operating systems, soon to become the king of the Internet!”

You’d think that Bing would swoop in with a revolutionary approach to search engines. Nope. I guess Microsoft thought it could get away with cloning Google and the masses would just flock to their service. Within a few months, Bing experienced a horrible, crushing defeat.

Bing’s distinguishing characteristic, tricking people into using Bing, makes it the sleaziest search engine in the world today.”

I’d like to note that Bing was pretty much destined to fail from the start. Microsoft had released Windows Vista a few years prior, in 2007. You know Vista – the slowest, buggiest, most crash-prone operating system in human history? That’s the one. Microsoft had created a public unwilling to put any faith in anything the company would produce from that point onward.

Today, Bing is a pretty mediocre search engine. As I mentioned earlier, it takes some glaring design cues from Google, but has some original ideas of its own.

Bing sticks a handy dandy “Lyrics” section on the side of the search results, whenever you search a song. I couldn’t foresee getting much use out if it (except on weekly karaoke nights), but it’s original. It’s nifty. It’s something Google doesn’t do.

The results are relevant and won’t try to smother you with Yahoo Answers. There are inline ads that occasionally appear on the top and bottom of search results, but they never got too annoying. Sure, Bing is no Google, but it’s not terrible… or so I thought, until I went to update my Skype.

I was going through the whole install process, missing Google all the while. I longed for the friendly vibe of google.com; ah, those five inviting letters. The blue “G.” The red “O.” I seriously considered scrapping the whole abstinence fiasco, in favor of a few searches on Google. Just a few. I can stop anytime I want to.

Alas, the reality of the situation came crashing down. I was about to click “Finish” on the Skype install window, when I saw: Make Bing your default search engine and MSN.com your homepage.

I squinted, then moved closer to my computer screen. I could discern a tiny checkbox to the left hand side of the print. It was woefully pre-checked.

Why, not five minutes prior I was borderline impressed with Bing’s performance! Now, I discover that Bing is fooling helpless users into making Bing their default search engine! With a scowl, I unchecked that box and returned to bing.com.

It’s possible that Google will someday know everything about everybody, and consequently rule the world, but they make a darn good search engine.”

Upon further inspection, I unearthed Microsoft’s scheme. Bing thrives off being as similar to Google as it can get away with. I realized the reason I liked Bing: it’s essentially a reskinned version of Google. Heck, the header design is identical to Google’s.

Bing’s distinguishing characteristic, tricking people into using Bing, makes it the sleaziest search engine in the world today. If sneaking into my Skype installation didn’t make Bing come off as desperate, the fact that Microsoft offers a rewards program for using Bing surely will. I’m not kidding. Users can earn points for doing Bing searches, and with these points one can purchase a myriad of goodies: Movie tickets. Giftcards. Etcetera.

If you’re literally giving your users free stuff for using your product, I think it’s time to rethink your product. You have disappointed me yet again, Microsoft.

I spent the remaining few days of my Google-less week flitting between lesser-known search engines. I had high expectations for Cuil, a service designed by a team of Google programmers in 2008. At the time of its release, the programmers claimed that Cuil indexed three times as many webpages as Google, going so far as to call their site a “Google killer.”

Today, it appears as though the Cuil team has succumbed to its Google overlord. Under the Cuil search bar lies a little disclaimer: “Powered by Google custom search.” Anyway, despite being Google supported, Cuil has a terrible design, terrible results, and, notably, no rewards program.

My week of abstinence drew to a close last Monday. It felt like a release from a crushing weight – a weight that had been placed upon my soul by three mediocre, nay, awful search engines. If I came out of this entire experience any wiser, which I doubt, I suppose it would be appropriate for me to share some wise words. Ahem.

It’s possible that Google will someday know everything about everybody and, consequently, rule the world, but they make a darn good search engine. In a Google world, information is immediately accessible to anyone. Google won’t bombard you with ads. It won’t push irrelevant links to the top of search results for a profit.

We often take the omnipresent things in life for granted. Sure, the omnipresence of disease and famine sucks, but know this: for every Bing out there, there’s a Google waiting for you.