Noise And Failure On The Internet

    October 18, 2006
    WebProNews Staff

There is too much to see online for most people, and too many ways to receive information. Worse, when people go looking for data they need, their quests fail three times out of ten.

A 31 percent failure rate for search sounds staggering, according to Outsell Inc’s Information Industry report. But as Internet usage has increased, so have the roadblocks to finding relevant information.

It’s not as though money to fund better technology has not been flowing in to the likes of Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft. All three are part of a Search, Aggregation and Syndication sector that Outsell values at $68 billion in revenue by 2009.

Yet with plenty of smart people working hard to improve search and information retrieval technology, even the mightiest of the mighty in search may have hit a plateau. Part of the problem could be what old-time Usenet users referred to as the signal to noise ratio, where the noise has increased to a point where it interferes with a signal.

Outsell described the impact of that noise in its report published in the monthly Client Briefing distributed by The Jordan, Edmiston Group in New York:

For information users, blogs and feed streams have created increased “noise” in the information landscape, causing enormous distraction. The Internet is the first stop for information seekers, and the time users spend using information is rising, currently averaging 13 hours per week compared to 11 hours per week two years ago.

Around the lead-lined writers’ room at WebProNews, we call 13 hours on the Net a “slow day.” But for other people that represents more than a quarter of the customary 40-hour work week. If an average of 31 percent of that time is wasted looking for information, that is three hours a week people are being paid to swear at their monitors.

There have been plenty of attempts to blast through the clutter. In talking with the inestimable Gary Price from a few weeks ago, he noted how that company wanted to provide a resource shelf at a person’s fingertips, all starting with the humble search box.

A couple of chats with Scott Niesen at Attensa, a maker of syndication feed-related software and appliances, has brought the phrase “river of news” into the conversation. Like, they focus on identifying what is likely the most important bit of information a given person wants at a particular time.

In search, the presence of affiliate and comparison links can be as much a bother as a help to people searching for product information. It reached a point for Oliver Humpage that drove him to distraction with Google, and he launched Give Me Back My Google (GmbmG) in response.

The site runs a normal Google query, but appends a series of exclusion operators to the query string. “Basically, if a site is purely a comparison site, with no extra useful information, it gets removed from results,” Humpage wrote in his site’s FAQ.

Relevance served as the backdrop to Yahoo’s debut of its revamped advertising system, Project Panama. Google has proven better at matching relevant paid search ads to search results than Yahoo, and it has reached a point of concern. Yahoo needs Panama to work well to enhance its take of the paid search realm’s multi-billion dollar market.

Each advance seems to bring more distraction. That is what the likes of Microsoft and Google face in technology. Not to mention the people who look for information every day.

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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.