Google: Ultimate truth sayer? Or not

Is Google really God, as Jeff Jarvis has declared?  Is a Google number one ranked search result the ultimate arbiter of truth?

Is Google really God, as Jeff Jarvis has declared? 

Is a Google number one ranked search result the ultimate arbiter of truth?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and confidence in Google SERPs is as well. 

Danny Sullivan headlined “Google declares Stephen Colbert as greatest living American,” at his blog “search engine land":

It's official. Stephen Colbert is the Greatest Living American.

How so? He “now ranks tops for that phrase at Google.” 

Not quite, though.

The Google SERP image presented by Sullivan as “evidence” for his headline assertion actually shows a Website called “Colbert Nation” returned, identified as a fan site for "Colbert Report," as the number one “organic” result returned for the search "greatest living american." Stephen Cobert is not speciifcally mentioned, anywhere. 

More importantly, however:

Did Google really declare anyone anything?

Not according to Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s own pronouncements at a Sullivan led Q & A at SES San Jose '06, when he was with “Search Engine Watch.” 

Schmidt was queried by a conference attendee:

I actually wanted to ask about the trust that users place in the Google search results. When a user does a search, they oftentimes come back and say, "Well, the first result, that's the most trustworthy one, the most truthful one. I put my faith in it." And maybe this is a problem of less-savvy users more than more savvy users. Do you think that Google will ever try to do something to say, "Hey, users, pay attention – you're not always going to be getting something highly truthful. You're not always going to be getting something that you should believe in." Is there some type of disclaimer that you guys would ever think about? I know that it doesn't exist right now, but…

Schmidt’s response: 

That's sort of like "objects may be closer than they appear in the mirror." I'm not sure that there's a lot of confusion on this. I think most of the people that I talk with understand that Google is not a truth machine and does not represent it to be so. We do the best we can. The evidence that we have and the testing and analysis is that we do the best job of any of the search engines. And we invest a tremendous amount of time and effort to have the most accurate, most comprehensive, largest, most sophisticated, most international index with the quickest result. That's what we do. That is our fundamental mission. Everything else that I've been talking about is secondary to that fundamental mission.

As we get better we might have the problem you're describing. People might say, "This thing is so good, it's a close to a truth machine as you can." But then I'm sure someone will come up with stuff, probably invent some way to make sure that untruthful things get there. So I don't think in our lifetimes we'll ever get to a perfect answer. But we'll get closer and closer to the model that you're describing.

Adam Bosworth, Google Vice President Engineering, undoubtedly does not view Google.com as a “truth machine.” 

I heard Bosworth at the NYC Googleplex earlier this year talk about how Google views search as “fuzzy” problem resolution, not as absolute arbitration, as I discuss in Google on Search: ‘Natural Language works when it isn’t.’ :

Imprecision is better than nothing and searchers "don't know if we are right," Bosworth indiated. We make educated guesses and people are pretty forgiving, he happily concluded.

Bottom line? 1) Stephen Colbert is NOT the greatest living American, 2) Google is NOT God.

ALSO: Beware: Google cloud platform exposed and Google Search: Is PageRank reliable? and Google’s Ten Commandments

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