'Google Is Just A Window Onto The Web' And The Web Is Getting Worse

Marissa Mayer
Former CEO of Yahoo! Inc.

Before Google, there was Yahoo!. Whereas Yahoo! thrived when it made a directory of the young web, Google is the search engine of the web.

The two are titans, but conquered the web in two different eras.

And no one knows this better than those who have worked for both companies.

Marissa Mayer is best known for becoming the CEO of Yahoo! before it was acquired by Verizon in 2017. But before that, Mayer was also Google's 20th employee.

As an ex-Googler, she knows much about how the web works, and according to her, people shouldn't blame Google if they cannot find what they're looking for when using the search engine.

According to her, the reason search results seem to get worse is because the web itself is worse.

Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer appeared on the Freakonomics podcast to discuss the topic of whether Google is getting worse.

She suggested that asking the reason why Google Search is getting worse is the wrong question.

The host of the podcast started out the show by describing how back in the days, people on the web were taking Google for granted. But much later, things aren't the same anymore. He said that he's seeing more ads, more links, and even more ads and more links.

Mayer agreed that the search experience is different today, but in her opinion, the problem isn't stemmed from Google.

If people complain about how Google cannot provide them with the best of results on its search engine results pages, Mayer said that it isn't Google's fault.

"I do think the quality of the internet has taken a hit [...] When I started at Google, there were about 30 million web pages, so crawling them all and indexing them all was relatively straightforward. It sounds like a lot, but it’s small."

"Today, I think there was one point where Google had seen more than a trillion URLs."

And when the host asked if the increase in the number of URLs is the reason why Google's search results are getting worse, Mayer said that:

"When you see the quality of your search results go down, it’s natural to blame Google and be like, ‘Why are they worse?’ To me, the more interesting and sophisticated thought is if you say, ‘Wait, but Google’s just a window onto the web. The real question is, why is the web getting worse?’“

And when speaking about the reason why the web is getting worse, Mayer added that:

"I think because there’s a lot of economic incentive for misinformation, for clicks, for purchases. There’s a lot more fraud on the web today than there was 20 years ago. And I think that the web has been able to grow and develop as quickly as it has because of less regulation and because it’s so international."

"But we also have to take the flipside of that."

"In a relatively unregulated space, there’s going to be, you know, economic mis-incentives that can sometimes degrade quality."

"And that does put a lot of onus on the brokers who are searching that information to try and overcome that. And it’s difficult."

"It kind of has to be more, in my view, an ecosystem-style reaction, rather than just a simple correction from one actor."

So here, her opinion is that, the low quality of content is caused by the relatively unregulated internet.

As more people realize that they can earn money by making contents, publishers started racing to be amongst the top. And this in turn created an ecosystem where scams and fake information.

Governments around the world have ways to protect their consumers from these things. Google also regulates how publishers should work by creating publishing guidelines, and those who failed to abide by Google’s guidelines can result in exclusion from the search results.

Many of Google's algorithms are dedicated to eradicate spam and unhelpful content from its search results. The thing is, Google’s algorithm updates proves that Google is more focused on fixing the internet content than it is on improving the technology for returning relevant search results.

And according to Mayer, Google's effort is more focused on encouraging an "ecosystem-style reaction."

Marissa Mayer
(left to right) the first CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt; Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin; and Marissa Mayer.

When she was at Google, her job was to oversee engineers, and becoming the Director of Consumer Web Products.

She was also part of the three-person team that originally developed AdWords.

And not just that, because at Google, she was also part of the team behind Google Images, News, Maps, and Gmail.

She was at one point in charge of Local, Maps, and Location Services.

It was only after that, that Mayer left Google to become the President and CEO of Yahoo! for about five years.

Having worked in different key positions at both Google and Yahoo!, there isn't that many people with the same level of expertise and experience like Mayer.