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InternetTech

Why AI search is more than a fad

Although we never quite know how things will turn out in the world of internet tech – after all, the metaverse was all the rage in 2022 – AI search is looking more and more likely to be something that’ll stick around. Why? Barring the eye-watering costs of ChatGPT (some estimating it to be $700,000 per day to operate) causing it to collapse, ChatGPT and other artificial intelligence chatbots are providing something traditional search engines can’t.

Specificity.

Once you’ve had a taste of the new, it’s difficult to go back to the old. Back in the mid-to-late 90s, Yahoo was an internet behemoth. How could something so big, so successful and so loved ever be toppled? Many felt it was simply too big to fail. But there was something about it that eventually would be its undoing. Its search engine kinda sucked. Unlike search engines of today that operate web crawlers, site owners would submit their websites to Yahoo’s directory. Search results generated from this mechanism would be infuriating. You’d search for something and get another thing completely different and totally irrelevant to what you needed.

When AskJeeves entered the scene, it promoted itself as the search engine that answered your questions. You were encouraged to ask a question into the search box rather than keywords or phrases people were used to entering into Yahoo’s search engine. But again, the results kinda sucked. Out of all the search engines of the late 90s, it was HotBot and AltaVista that developed reputations for delivering the best search results. But still, they kinda sucked.

Yahoo.com in 1998
By Jan 1998 Yahoo.com was receiving over 125 million monthly visits

And then Google came along. The impact was instantaneous. Using their page rank algorithm, determining a site’s relevancy to a search query based on the number of other websites linking to it, the search results were much better. Even today backlinks are a powerful signal Google uses to determine the quality of a website. While Yahoo’s popularity as a portal would increase into the 2000s, the writing was on the wall. When it came to search, Google was now the big dog. Yahoo’s search results looked primitive in comparison.

And here we are now in the 2020s and Google’s search results are now experiencing the same thing Yahoo’s did, and are starting to look increasingly primitive. Here’s an example. Let’s say you own a website and you want to know if all those spammers and bots that visit your site actually help you earn money, since they might add to the impressions count of the ads displayed on your site. So you search for, “Do spammers help me earn money by visiting my site?” And what do you get….?

An example of how Google provides irrelevant search results for the query, "Do spammers help me earn money by visiting my site?"

Instead of providing results that answer you query, Google has provided you with irrelevant search results. You don’t want to know how spammers make money, you want to know if spammers help you make money! Now lets ask the same question on ChatGPT.

Asking ChatGPT if spammers help a website owner earn money by visiting their site.

Now, regardless of what one thinks of the quality of ChatGPT’s answers, it is specific and relevant to the query. Unlike Google’s search results that provide suggestions to webpages that don’t even answer one’s questions, ChatGPT is attempting to answer the user’s specific query. We’ve never had at this scale such a high degree of search result specificity, and its making traditional search results look primitive.

But we are still in the early days of AI. From art to music to search results, AI is disrupting any industry it enters. Many of us are jumping onto the hype train, however, while specificity is something that’s much appreciated by users who are tired of irrelevant search results, problems abound with AI. Chatbots can be temperamental and simply provide incorrect information with the confidence of someone, or something, that’s got all the knowledge in the world at their fingertips. AI is solving problems, but also causing problems, many of which are putting regulators on red alert. But when it comes to search, the scene has been set. We’ve entered a new era of search results. A new standard of specificity and relevance is upon us, and it’ll be difficult for us to return to the ‘primitive’ search results of the 2010s.

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