Last week, some of us finally made Directionlessgov.com, a search engine as your interface to the UK government. Have a go, it’s actually quite useful. It’s a bit of an in-joke, but makes a simple point well; these days everyone finds everything by Google. Normal people don’t go to fat, carefully crafted “web portals” like Directgov.
I saw this myself yesterday when my Mum was trying to give towards relief after the Tsunami. At the time the appeal website wasn’t yet up, and she searched for all sorts of things on Google, none of which got anywhere. In the end going to Oxfam’s home page first, then following the prominant link, worked well. But it was far harder than it should have been.
Most of my websites get most of their traffic from Google. If you search for the name of your MP you’ll find TheyWorkForYou and/or PublicWhip in the first few hits. When you’re making a website, it’s worth remembering that from your user’s point of view the <title> is actually a menu entry within Google. To most people, your content is just a part of the Internet. Not the part of your site which you think it is, with your excessive attachment to what you made.
The twist in the tale is, of course, that the Internet is now excessively centralised. Everyone from the nerdiest nerd to the grandest grandmother uses Google. That’s fine for now, but it’s dangerous when somebody with fewer scruples takes them over. Or when your business collapses because of a tweak in their page ranking algorithm. Endlessly the good consumer looks for alternatives…