Jay Hoffmann

Books, movies, and code

#32: Google’s Decay

A call and response, between Casey Newton and Mike Masnick, with plenty of others that have commented lately.

First, Newton on Google’s turn into AI, and it’s rather predictable and yet still somehow inevitable results that make everything a little worse. As Google drives people to scraped information without attributing a source, people won’t click anymore. And that’s what Google wants.

Still, as the first day of I/O wound down, it was hard to escape the feeling that the web as we know it is entering a kind of managed decline. Over the past two and a half decades, Google extended itself into so many different parts of the web that it became synonymous with it. And now that LLMs promise to let users understand all that the web contains in real time, Google at last has what it needs to finish the job: replacing the web, in so many of the ways that matter, with itself.

There’s an argument that Google will still have an incentive to drive people to actual websites, because that’s how Adsense makes money and Adsense is a cash cow. I’m skeptical of that argument. Ads are on a steep decline, and I don’t think Google has ever really cared much about cannibalizing their own business. Anything for progress.

Mike Misnick thinks the solution lies outside of Google anyway, and I agree. He points to decentralized systems. Not because they are better, necessarily, but simply because they are more difficult to contorl.

And it’s one of the reasons I am still hoping that people will spend more time thinking about solutions that involve decentralization. Not necessarily because of “search” (which tends to be more of a centralized tool by necessity), but because the world of decentralized social media could offer an alternative to the world in which all the information we consume is intermediated by a single centralized player, whether it’s a search engine like Google, or a social media service like Meta.

It’s the decay of a once great service that’s interesting. It’s easy that Google is an institution. But Google was invented in 1997. It didn’t have dominance like it does until about 15 years ago. It very well can somewhere and very well may go straight into the dumpster if they keep pumping out crap.

And it’s hard to think the world wouldn’t be a better place for it at this point.

George Sauders on living life without regret:

So what is stopping me from stepping outside my habitual crap? 

My mind, my limited mind. 

The story of life is the story of the same basic mind readdressing the same problems in the same already discredited ways.

June 2, 2024

The importance of liberal arts, according to Paul Ford:

All you have to do is look at a tree—any tree will do—to see how badly our disciplines serve us. Evolutionary theory, botany, geography, physics, hydrology, countless poems, paintings, essays, and stories—all trying to make sense of the tree. We need them all, the whole fragile, interdependent ecosystem. No one has got it right yet

Pirsig makes a similar point in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

“We have artists with no scientific knowledge and scientists with no artistic knowledge and both with no spiritual sense of gravity at all, and the result is not just bad, it is ghastly” (Time for real reunification of art and technology is really long overdue)

May 31, 2024

A decent rule of thumb when writing, via Warren Ellis

Imagine: you’re writing away, and suddenly a piece of the story feels wrong. You take it out, start again, and you’re stuck. Sometimes, I just mark that bit of story with an asterisk or something and keep going until I have the idea to replace it with. It’s just time and paper/pixels, after all. I don’t stall, I don’t lose energy, I just keep inventing around and from that break point, generating material until I have the idea to replace the broken bit with. Sometimes I end up with some material I can’t use, but that doesn’t mean it’s useless – save everything, you never know when that stuff can be applied to something else or be the seed of something new.