Google wants to chronicle all of the known information in the world. In fact, it is one of their stated goals that they are always going to look and archive more information (look at number 7). It makes sense for them to continue on a relentless pace to tag and index all of the world’s knowledge. This will help people to find what they are really looking for. And yet, there are definitely times when I don’t find what I am looking for. There are times, in fact, that no search engine is of use. I type in quoted terms, questions, and specific keywords. I use Boolean operators, look into different filetypes, and even scan my social networks and RSS feeds for answers. Eventually, I realize that if the answer doesn’t exist in any kind of way that I am looking for, I may as well create it. Which is much of what happens when I blog or podcast. I am searching for an answer that doesn’t yet exist.
And those are the kinds of questions that Google can’t answer. The ones that haven’t been indexed yet. The ones that are so personal and idiosyncratic that Google’s ability to find information is hampered by the fact that it is a company collecting knowledge and not a person who is reacting directly to my needs.
For all of the attempts that Google has made to get to know me in recent days (Google Profiles, Google Web History, Google bookmarks, etc.), when I go and type in search terms, it starts from scratch. It assumes that I know nothing about the topic at hand, and it points me to the most obvious places to start looking for information. Another assumption it is making is that I am simply a consumer of information. It provides a simple method for gaining access to that information, but it certainly does not allow me to present an alternative idea. Lastly, Google (or any search engine, really) will not let you test out a hypothesis. While it may prove or disprove a fact, it is incapable of providing feedback on an idea that you have about anything from lobster ravioli to the next version of your new software package.
The questions that google can’t answer are ones that place you at the center of creating an answer, ones that require the intimate knowledge of many diverse points of information, and ones for which you already have an answer and you are trying to garner feedback enough to see if you are right.
In the end, Google is not a collaborative platform (for as much as SideWiki, SearchWiki and many SEO firms would have you believe otherwise), nor is it a place that can take all of your needs into account and point you to a real resolution. Nor is it a place for vindication. It may answer nearly all of your questions, but the ones that are the most important. The ones that you really need an answer for, Google falls flat. So, perhaps we need a different platform for those kinds of questions. Perhaps we need something more human, more collaborative, and more feedback-oriented. I think creating that platform would be a lot of fun.