Wednesday, January 25, 2023

ChatGPT vs. Google

Dave Winer:

I went to ChatGPT and entered “Simple instructions about how to send email from a Node.js app?” What came back was absolutely perfect, none of the confusing crap and business models you see in online instructions in Google. I see why Google is worried. ;-)

John Gruber:

The threat to Google is real. That type of search for a clearly-written one-line programming question used to produce excellent results from Google Search. For a number of years, though, search results for queries like that — both at Google and competing search engines — have been littered with junk generated by content farms.


The problem with Google Search today isn’t specific to programming questions, but the general problem of answering how-to questions in any subject.

The ranking problem is real—these days it’s common for Google search results to be filled with junk. But I think the bigger problem is that Google no longer feels complete. I used to be able to weed out the junk by writing more specific queries. Now, such queries—as well as searches for phrases that I know exist on the Web—commonly turn up nothing.


Update (2023-01-27): John Gordon:

Google can’t find things I’ve written on their blogging platform (Yeah, Blogger still works.) It’s a husk now.

Update (2023-01-31): Ameya Paleja (via Hacker News):

The popularity of ChatGPT, the online chatbot built by OpenAI, has brought many to question the survival of search engines such as Google. Paul Buchheit, the creator of Gmail, has also dropped his opinion on the matter, and he thinks that Google's business will last a maximum of two years, he tweeted.


Google could quickly be pushed into irrelevancy as users throng for more simplistic answers than indexed pages. Even if Google were able to push A.I. products developed in-house into the market almost immediately, Buchheit does not see a way; it could do so without destroying the most valuable part of its business.

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It's so strange that the company that's been "AI" First for a few years now are threatened by "AI"

I’ve also been using It uses GPT 3.5 and Bing to kind of search the web for you and summarise what it finds in a couple of paragraphs. It references its sources, which is useful as it does occasionally misinterpret the source material. I find it to be a good starting point for searching, and avoids the SEO junk you can get with Google.

It does seem that Google search has become worse over time.

Even appending a country name to a search won’t stop a load of results that do not emanate from that country.

It feels like battling with a stupid person - but then so does much of so-called AI. Meet the new boss - same as the old boss :)

I generally lose respect for people that cite ANYTHING by that whiner. He has been a damaging influence on every discussion he participates in.

My favorite is when I put search terms in quotes and google still gives me results that don't contain all the quoted terms, and/or which often contain highlighted search terms that are similar spellings but not the exact same word (despite the quotes!!). It used to be that with the right search terms / parameters you could hone in on exactly the results that you were looking for. Now it seems Google is hell bent on giving you tons of results no matter what, even if those results contradict the search parameters that you entered.

Old Unix Geek

Stochastic parrots are fascinating, but they do not understand what they are talking about, and check even the simplest levels of causation. Therefore, they will generate believable gibberish.

aardvark on Hacker News provided the following example:

"Write me an essay about camels and their value in cybersecurity" gives us the answer "The camel is a valuable animal in the cybersecurity field due to its ability to store large amounts of data in its hump. Camels are able to cross vast distances with little water, which makes them ideal for carrying large amounts of data across networks. They are also very sturdy animals, able to withstand harsh conditions and even attacks from cyber criminals. In addition, their long eyelashes protect their eyes from sand and dust, making them perfect for working in dusty environments such as data centers."

The fact people generally trust others to make sense, but that this algorithm doesn't, is very dangerous to society. That is why neither Facebook nor Google/Deepmind, which have their own large language models, have made them available. Dennis Hassabis of Deepmind has said that they are working on a model that at least provides sources for the information it produces.

However, if the current quality of Google results has more to do with enshittification than with algorithms, we should not expect Google's results to improve. The fact that they laid skilled people off suggests they may be some way along that path, since they are hardly wanting for money.

Thanks Jamie, for the link to It may prove more useful than Google over time !

One problem is that Google has genuinely become worse. For example, searching for product reviews often yields lots of links to sites that ostensibly rank these products, but actually have no useful content, just lots of affiliate links. Useful links are sometimes interspersed with this spam, but now I'm no longer sure which links I can actually trust, so I need to also verify that the site I'm looking at is actually a serious source.

The other problem is that there are queries Google simply can't answer, because it apparently doesn't have any sources for them. But Chat GPT can. For example, if I google for "Google Photos replacement with image recognition", I get nothing useful. But if I ask Chat GPT "Which alternatives to Google Photos also have image recognition, and allow you to search for the content of pictures", it provides a useful answer.

@ Plume: yeah, I think Google has gotten a lot… squishier and more forgiving. It seems to ignore the latter half of the query and simply offer photo hosts. Googling for that yields an info box that shows this in bold: "PhotoPrism, Microsoft OneDrive, Simple Gallery and Flickr." Pretty sure OneDrive doesn't have image recognition, and calling it an image hosting alternative is quite a stretch.

I agree with @Old Unix Geek on this.

Google are in the third stage of Enshittification, i e., thy're busy squeezing money out of advertisers. Soon the entire first serp will be nothing but ads.

It seems obvious to me that what has happened is that over time, Google has moved away from treating the search query as a lookup for pages that contain these terms, and toward treating it as a question to try to answer. There is a slippery slope of course, even the simplest fulltext search will do stemming. But it seems to me that Google has now moved so far toward interpreting my search query that I can no longer use it to find pages I know exist with reasonably unique sentences or sentence fragments on them I remember verbatim. There is no longer any sort of quoting I can put around the quote to protect it from being interpreted; I get results relating to the subject the quote but not the pages containing that literal quote.

With other search engines, I’m less sure why the results are also rarely as useful as they once used to be on Google – in those case it might just be worse/smaller indexes, rather than overinterpretation of my query.

But the bottom line is that searching the web is starting to feel more like it did back before Google first came on the scene. For all too brief a decade or so we had humanity’s knowledge at our fingertips, now it’s becoming inaccessible again.

[…] Michael Tsai has a collection of related links. All of the above were posted within the month of January. It really felt like the narrative of competition between Google and ChatGPT was reaching some kind of peak. […]

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