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What's your motive for sharing knowledge?

Users will be able to add Notes to Google search results lists, and read Notes others have added. Is this a human reaction to the rise of AI?

by Rob Corbidge
Published: 16:15, 16 November 2023

Rob Corbidge is Head of Content Intelligence at Glide Publishing Platform, applying the latest knowledge about advances and ideas in the publishing industry to our own product and helping clients get the most from their content.

A man typing into multiple mobile devices at once

What's your motive for sharing knowledge?

I'd long understood that Aztecs performed human sacrifice in order to ensure the sun came up every day. No incinerated heart on Monday, no sun on Tuesday.

Performing a recent cyclical knowledge audit of things that intrigue me, I decided to fill out this notion, garnered from some long discarded book, and spent some time gaining an informed amateur's understanding of why we think the Aztecs were wedded to such alien beliefs to our own and why the merciless action of the obsidian knife was central to their life (or death).

Once I'd armed myself with what is understood about Aztec culture and religion as it pertains to the awful bloodied altars at the heart of their belief system, I couldn't help but share the knowledge with those of my friends who delight equally in such (admittedly dark) information.

What is the reward for the individual in gathering such understanding and then relaying it? Well, until I become an Aztecician, watching my friends' faces as I describe the civilizational logic that led to such strange and awful practice becoming the norm is fine for me.

This is the same mechanism publishers use really. The power of shared information, intrigue, and understanding to capture an audience, just with some attached financial modelling to reflect the effort involved.

So we have the announcement this week that Google is adding notes to search.

This feature gives users the utility to type their own notes on a specific search result, and also allow others to read other's notes on that search result. 

So a form of human curation. Like for example, Reddit

The most intelligent response to this move seems to pivot on the idea that Google wants to return the human to search. That is, actual people telling other people things informed by their own knowledge and/or experience. This is set against the current, and foolish, prevalent narrative that an inevitable tide of AI-created content will wash over humanity and leave it covered in clickbait seaweed. 

We've seen similar on X, with practically the only change publicly welcomed on the platform under its new management being the addition of Community Notes. Although these themselves have become more of a battlefield in recent times, it could well be argued that was the intention. The more the ebb and flow of point and counterpoint is published on X, the more activity there is on the platform. 

This week's announcement is back to the future in full operation for Google. All the way back in fact to the steam age of 2008, when the big G announced SearchWiki as "a way for you to customize search by re-ranking, deleting, adding, and commenting on search results". It lasted all of two years.

Nevertheless, there is a possible enhancement to user experience in such a move. It doesn't come from an ignoramus such as your author adding his own scant understanding of Aztec sacrificial rites to a link about obsidian knife manufacture, it will come from queries such as "how to get tyre sealant off my bike wheel rims". Many others are chasing this gold mine of user attention though, from Facebook Groups to Quora and all points in between.

Will we see the rise of superanswerers, dispensing knowledge through Google search notes? Will it see an arms race to establish authority in a given field or will it fall victim to a clickbait factory in northern Somewhereville specialising in the manufacture of plausible-sounding notes spam? Will search notes become the new fake reviews?

Another change Google is making is possibly more intriguing.

"Starting later this year, we’ll also make it easier to find and visit your favorite sites. For example, if you’ve searched for something a few times, like DIY instructions for a backyard project, and keep returning to the same web page, our systems will recognize that and bring the site to the top of the search results page."

This also brings the possibility of sector dominance for those willing to work for it. Although, as ever with Google, what they give, they will take away. It's a one way street, even with notes attached.

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