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Nothing Stays Simple

To get some sense of the future agenda of searching and how it might impact your privacy, it's instructive to look at the history of Yahoo!, one of the most financially successful and stable online businesses. The WayBack Machine, otherwise known as the Internet Archive, is not only a cool way to waste an hour or two, but also gives some insight into the forces that constrain and impel search companies. Enter http://www.yahoo.com as your search criterion at that site (note that this feature merely searches the Internet Archive's database) and wait a bit for the results to be fully displayed. There are too many Yahoo! home pages reported to examine them all, but you might care to look at the first link for each year from 1996 onward. Witness for yourself the transformation of Yahoo! from a simple search page to a spin-driven magazine-style shop front.

It's pretty clear that the simple and clean Google-style search interfaces that we get today are not going to last. The beautifully sparse 1996 Yahoo! has given way to a 2005 Yahoo! that's a mass of push advertising and service offerings, customized to the nth degree.

There's nothing wrong with that—being an online magazine and community center is a mostly harmless living. It's just a little sad that the Google stockholders will naturally expect Google to sell something, and so today's clean and simple search experience could easily be the first thing to go. Our Google search results pages, recently decorated with Sponsored Links, are likely to be more and more advertorial in the future; or perhaps the search results that we get will be "balanced" by the search engine provider's business goals.

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