Meritocracy and its Discontents   /   Summer 2016   /    Book Reviews

The Future of Search

Chad Wellmon

Illustration by Navidim; Shutterstock, Inc.

Today, to search is to google. Specifically, it is to use Google’s search engine to find something on the Web. As for those other searches that once helped define the human condition—for meaning, love, purpose, or God––those have, in little more than a decade, assumed almost secondary importance.

From its now almost apocryphal beginnings at Stanford in 1998, Google was described by its cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin as a technology designed to “organize the world’s information.” In an early press release, Brin declared that “a perfect search engine will process and understand all the information in the world.” In its first decade, Google focused on the former undertaking––organizing information on a global scale––by trying to map the World Wide Web, essentially an ever-expanding and highly fragile set of documents connected by hyperlinks. Google’s search engine helped people navigate the Web by tracing the links among webpages. Google’s search engineers thought of the Web as a medium of documents. Accordingly, the search engine they designed was document-centric, keyword based, and highly contextual. Search results were always embedded in particular texts—documents that, once you clicked on one, framed information in a particular way.

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