Google is forgetting the old web

Some people think Google has stopped indexing old parts of the web. Even supposing that’s not the case, that there isn’t any memory loss going on, it seems to me that in recent years Google has tweaked its ranking to give more prominence to what’s hot and trending, the new over the old. The first page of a Google search is more often than not just a collection of news articles. Smaller design choices — such as the news carousel featuring at the top of most searches — have put more weight on recency over accuracy, on articles about the latest developments of a situation over less noisy sources.

One other major shift in how Google views itself happened around the time voice assistants entered our lives — being that they need to return straight answers to be useful, not a set of options. That’s when Google started using machine learning and algorithms to return direct answers to queries. It works when the answer is factual, such as the height of a mountain or the distance from a place. It’s less trustworthy when asked about an event or a situation, seeing that it seems to return whatever is popular at the moment.

That’s saddening, even if no forgetting was happening. This focus on novelty over knowledge diverges from my mental model of the Web. As Tim Bray writes, a permanent, long-lived store of humanity’s intellectual heritage.