Google killed the website star

Mustafa Suleyman, the British entrepreneur who co-founded DeepMind, said: “The business model that Google had broke the internet.”

He said search results had become plagued with “clickbait” to keep people “addicted and absorbed on the page as long as possible”.

Information online is “buried at the bottom of a lot of verbiage and guff”, Mr Suleyman argued, so websites can “sell more adverts”, fuelled by Google’s technology.

Anyone who has tried to find anything on Google in recent years knows that Suleyman is 100% correct. Google’s search results have become so bad because website makers play the SEO game, and that means creating content that Google’s algorithm likes – but, and here’s the kicker, what Google’s algorithm likes, is not really what people like. Writing an article to please a computer is entirely different from writing an article to please a human. There are very clear and well-understood and thoroughly studied rules about writing in a way that makes things easy to read, but Google’s algorithm doesn’t optimise for that.

And now “AI” is being trained on this crap content, so that they will also produce crap content. We’re not far away from a future where bots are writing content for other bots that teach other bots to write content for bots. In fact, that future may already be here, judging by some of the style of writing I’ve been seeing even on otherwise venerable outlets.

This is also why so many websites have started posting basic, simple how-to articles. You see stuff like “How do I move my apps on an iPhone?” or “How do I delete a folder in Windows?” or “The best neckband headphones of 2023” all over the place now, even on websites where they clearly don’t belong and don’t fit the audience, not just on content farms – these articles are not designed for readers, they’re designed to catch Google search queries and generate traffic. It must be absolutely soul-crushing and mind-numbing to write stuff like that and optimise it for SEO, but you know – fish’ gotta swim, bird’s gotta eat.

Here’s a little inside hockey for you: on several occasions over the past year or so, both OSNews as a whole, and me individually, have been approached by serious parties to effectively turn OSNews into one of those content farms. Some have even tried to get me to write such “content” for their own content farms. Clearly, we’ve never accepted such offers – I’m no cheap date – but the pressure is there, and not everyone can resist. It’s why so many tech websites that used to have a clear identity and tone have become so much more bland and repetitive. They are all tiny cogs in massive content networks now, with their original stated goals and interests shoved to the wayside – all to chase the SEO.

We’ve clearly not yet fallen victim to this – OSNews is still just me posting news – but that also means we’re not making any money in the ways other tech websites do, and in fact, why we’re not making enough to keep things going without OSNews’ owner footing the bill out of his own pocket. That’s why I’ve been more active and persistent in promoting our Patreon, Ko-Fi, merch store, and Liberapay, since it allows us to not worry about the financials as much. It always feels awkward to do, but I also realise that if I want OSNews to keep going for another 25 years, that’s really the only thing I can do.

Because Google has thoroughly ruined every other avenue for websites like ours to make money.

I’m so sorry for the headline.


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