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A trip down the Numa Numa. Why Google is amazing, but search is broken

That Leverage
March 13th, 2020 · 3 min read

We were enjoying one of those family moments where different generations take turns showing videos on Youtube.

A Netflix film inspired us to look up The Whole of the Moon by The Waterboys. This wound its way to Close to Me by The Cure. One of my daughters said the baseline sounded like Billie Eilish’s Bad Guys. So, we watched that, then she took us to a remake of the song shot in IKEA using just sounds from IKEA (it was amazing).

Singing other people’s song got me thinking about that song that that guy sang into his computer that led to lots of other people copying with their own versions. I couldn’t remember the name so I thought maybe Google would know. I typed,

‘guys sings into video old yourube meme’

First result: the Numa Numa video!

Google read my mind.

Yes, Goolge is amazing, but it doesn’t work for everything.

Earlier in the day I’d been searching for various combinations of ‘A5 black notebook soft cover for sale Australia’

The results were not impressive.

Amazon was better – I could find a 400-page notebook, and a 600-page (!) notebook, although I still needed to look elsewhere to check they were A5.

Google doesn’t do precise searches like this well, and this includes things like time, location, and product specifications.

For example, if we try to search,

  • What can I do within a 20 minute drive with my kids, today that’s free? (How I longed for this product when I had toddlers!)
  • What’s the most recent interview given by Naval Ravikant?, or
  • Where’s the closest place I can buy a 300 page A5 black soft cover notebook?

We don’t get great results.

The results aren’t there because, firstly, Google isn’t organized to surface them. Google prioritises popularity and importance over precision, and for many things popularity and importance are more important than precision. Except of course when they’re not.

When I’m looking for the most interview with someone, I am not after their most important interview, or their web page, or a recent news story. I’m after (surprisingly) their most recent interview.

In this case, though, I probably can find the information, I can see every interview they’ve ever done, and then using a combination of the publication date on youtube, and the event advertising information, I can find the most recent interview.

Or I can check the websites of the 20 or 30 places that might have something on today for my kids, and find out the local council is running a face-painting workshop at a local library.

But for some cases the information just won’t be there. Why put up information if it’s not able to be found?

Consider Airbnb, Uber and Upwork. Yes, all these businesses do more than search. But it’s worth noting that in each case they at least do search. And in each case the ability to search has led to a virtuous circle, where the easier they’ve made it to find something, the easier it’s become to contribute something to be found. To put it more concretely, if you have a spare room, or a car, or an hour, there is now a way of letting the world know.

Behind each search problem lies an opportunity.

And the great thing about these opportunities is they come to us. Every time we google something and get a poor result, or better yet, decide not to google something because we know it won’t be worth it, an opportunity may just have been delivered to us.

Google will of course try and take up some of them, but they won’t be able to take up all of them, after all,

  • The search categories will require hand-crafted precision, as Upwork displays what skills its freelancers have.
  • The opportunities will typically require more than just search, as Airbnb provides a payment and trust mechanism, and
  • The person who contributes the data must do so in an intentionally structured form. It’s not enough to throw up a website, rather, as an Uber driver needs to communicate where they are, what type of car they have, what their rating is, and whether they’re available.

In the meantime, though, there’s an old Coldplay clip I’d like to show my daughters.

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