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Google’s South Park Lesson

The Guardian posted an article that provides eyetracking results, showing that users are ignoring the much hyped Google “real time” search results.  The article goes on to postulate as to why this is, and in doing so makes some clever references to hidden gorillas and characterizes the problem as one of “presentation.”

I beg to differ and would suggest, instead, that this is a problem of authority.

You Will Respect My Authoritah!

Any quest for answers, especially those involving Internet search, is entirely based on authority; namely, the authority of both the referrer and the source.  We have all grown to lend a certain degree of trust to the search engine of our choice.  That is, after all, why we’re using Google as opposed to Bing, or vice versa.  We understand that their respective algorithms or ranking processes have pre-qualified these results and judged them to be the most relevant to our search.  However, we also understand that the machines are imperfect and so we scan the results and try to judge for ourselves which of the individual sources appears to have high enough authority to warrant our attention.

In the South Park episode “Chickenlovr,” Cartman pulls over a speeding vehicle and discovers that just because he is wearing a uniform, it doesn’t mean that he has authority.

The problem with real time results is that the sources come from social networks that are decidedly outside our circle of trust.  If I see a list of Tweets from people I don’t follow, my gut reaction is to say, “I don’t follow that person, therefore what they have to say is not important to me.”  It’s a defense mechanism as much as anything.  On a certain level, we feel like we need to protect our social network by not admitting that outsiders have anything of superior value.  As Ani DeFranco sang, “God forbid you be an ugly girl, ‘course too pretty is also your doom, ’cause everyone harbors a secret hatred for the prettiest girl in the room.”

And so it goes with so-called real time search results.  Since you are not in my circle of trust, you are either too ugly or too pretty – but either way I’m not buyin’ it.

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