Sometime You Shouldn’t Give the People What They Want | Google’s Featured Snippets, Convenience, Understanding

From this piece on Google’s featured snippets and the company’s aim to deliver answers instead of search results:

For one thing, people really like this style of search. “It’s having a very good impact on the search results. People love them,” said Eric Enge, CEO of Stone Temple Consulting, a digital marketing agency that has done three deep-dive studies on featured snippets. In one of his company’s surveys, people said the feature they wanted most was the ability to “answer directly without having to visit another website or another app.”

Maybe sometimes one shouldn’t give the people what they want.

I do understand that it’s problematic to deliver traditional results in voice-based interfaces. But taking a) optionality in general and b) the power to select one’s sources and information away from the user and handing it over to algorithms¹ doesn’t necessarily strike me as the best idea. The fact that those algorithms are owned by one particular company doesn’t make it better.

On a more general level: Sometimes it is good to force people to take the hard route. In life things don’t tend to come easy. We are all suckers for convenience – I certainly am! – but there can be too much of it. Particularly when it comes to the domain of the mind. It needs training and challenges just as our body does.

Now, it’s certainly our individual responsibility to fight our weaker self. But increasingly the world around us makes it so easy to just get everything force-fed. We start to expect that news, information, research and all that stuff is just there. But in fact it isn’t. It was hard work to obtain, verify and document it.

Plus, having an information isn’t the same as understanding something to the degree you can apply it. Machines will never be able to internalize knowledge for us. So we better don’t start pretending they would. Nor that it’s a skill which won’t matter one day.

¹ still very raw algorithms particularly when it comes to understanding language and semantics (in contrast to syntax)

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