Google hopes to improve by better surfacing authoritative content and enlisting feedback about suggested searches and Featured Snippets answers.
Google knows it has a search quality problem. It’s been plagued since November with concerns about fake news, disturbing answers and offensive search suggestions appearing at the top of its results. “Project Owl” is an effort by the company to address these issues, with three specific actions being announced today.
In particular, Google is launching:
- a new feedback form for search suggestions, plus formal policies about why suggestions might be removed.
- a new feedback form for “Featured Snippets” answers.
- a new emphasis on authoritative content to improve search quality.
We’ll get into the particulars of each of those items below. First, some background on the issue they aim to fix.
Project Owl & problematic content
Project Owl is Google’s internal name for its endeavor to fight back on problematic searches. The owl name was picked for no specific reason, Google said. However, the idea of an owl as a symbol for wisdom is appropriate. Google’s effort seeks to bring some wisdom back into areas where it is sorely needed.
“Problematic searches” is a term I’ve been giving to a situations where Google is coping with the consequences of the “post-truth” world. People are increasingly producing content that reaffirms a particular world view or opinion regardless of actual facts. In addition, people are searching in enough volume for rumors, urban myths, slurs or derogatory topics that they’re influencing the search suggestions that Google offers in offensive and possibly dangerous ways.
These are problematic searches, because they don’t fall in the clear-cut areas where Google has typically taken action. Google has long dealt with search spam, where people try to manipulate its results outside acceptable practices for monetary gain. It has had to deal with piracy. It’s had to deal with poor-quality content showing up for popular searches.
Problematic searches aren’t any of those issues. Instead, they involve fake news, where people completely make things up. They involve heavily-biased content. They involve rumors, conspiracies and myths. They can include shocking or offensive information. They pose an entirely new quality problem for Google, hence my dubbing them “problematic searches.”
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