How Google is killing independent sites like ours
February 20, 2024 1:22 PM   Subscribe

Private equity firms are utilizing public trust in long-standing publications to sell every product under the sun. In a bid to replace falling ad revenue, publishing houses are selling their publications for parts to media groups that are quick to establish affiliate marketing deals. They’re buying magazines we love, closing their print operations, turning them into digital-only, laying off the actual journalists who made us trust in their content in the first place, and hiring third-party companies to run the affiliate arm of their sites. While this happens, investment firms and ‘innovative digital media companies’ are selling you bad products. These Digital Goliaths shouldn’t be able to use product recommendations as their personal piggy bank, simply flying through Google updates off the back of ‘the right signals,’ an old domain, or the echo of a reputable brand that is no longer.
Indie air purifier review site HouseFresh does a deep dive into the incestuous world of top-ranking Google product search results.

Related: How 16 Companies are Dominating the World’s Google Search Results

A similar dynamic is at play with the company's push to boost discussion forums, where Reddit and Quora utterly dominate despite (or perhaps because of) their late-stage enshittification; to wit:

How social media’s biggest user protest rocked Reddit
While traffic has not changed substantially, many users report the quality of content and the kinds of posts that are surfaced on user homepages now seem different. RamsesThePigeon said the content on some of Reddit’s most-followed pages, which he moderates, had “gone sharply downhill”.

Stevie Chancellor, an assistant professor in the department of computer science and engineering at the University of Minnesota who has studied Reddit for years, echoed these sentiments. “A lot of people who made Reddit a place where people wanted to be are not there any more, and a lot of high-quality content that I went to Reddit for is gone,” she said. “There has been a noticeable decline in the quality of content, both in terms of what is posted and what people talk about.”

In response to such critiques, Reddit spokesperson Rathschmidt said he did not “know of an industry benchmark for scoring content quality”.
Reddit sells training data to unnamed AI company ahead of IPO

Why Quora Isn't Useful Anymore
The once-beloved forum is now home to a never-ending avalanche of meaningless, repetitive sludge, filled with bizarre, nonsensical, straight-up hateful, and A.I.–generated entries along with a slurry of all-caps non-questions like “OMG! KING CHARLES SHOCK the WORLD with ROYAL BAN ON PRINCE HARRY AND MEGHAN MARKLE. SAD?” (The answer to this “question,” which garnered about 7 million views, links to a bizarre, barely functional royals-watching website called red-carpett.com.) Whereas once you could Google a question about current events and find links to thoughtful Quora answers near the top of the results, you’re now more likely to come upon, say, a bunch of folks asking in the year of our Lord 2024 whether the consistently racist Donald Trump is, in fact, racist. Or, maybe, the featured Google snippet will tell you that eggs can melt, thanks to a nonsense Quora answer caught in the search crawler.
On a happier note, Google's favoring of discussion forums has paid dividends to MeFi, which has seen increasing traffic and a top-10 ranking for prime keywords -- a heartening turnaround almost 10 years (!) after a previous algorithm change nearly shuttered the site.
posted by Rhaomi (97 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
 
I’ve been noticing this issue with product reviews for a while now - it’s basically impossible to get anything useful even with sites that you would have thought wouldn’t be producing drecht. And yet they are! I’m not, however, sure what the solution is, if they face no consequences for it.
posted by corb at 1:42 PM on February 20 [12 favorites]


Google search has jumped the shark AFAIAC. I started paying Kagi instead, which at least shows me search results instead of marketing. Unless I'm searching for marketing.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 1:52 PM on February 20 [18 favorites]


I've been letting go of the idea that there is a "best" product. I mean, maybe there is a best air purifier, but its more likely that I'm going to research, find conflicting recommendations, end up buying something more expensive than I intended, find something about it to be disappointed with, and maybe start the research/buy/disappoint cycle all over again.

Now if I need a air purifier, I just go get one in my price range from the big box store. And... it'll probably be fine. At least it won't catch on fire and I can return it if it really sucks.

Alternately, check the thrift store or buy nothing group. Or just don't get an air purifier. But remember: there is no best air purifier. It's fine to have an okay air purifier.
posted by Is It Over Yet? at 2:07 PM on February 20 [18 favorites]


I have never found a useful answer on Quora, so I object to the notion that is has "gotten worse": it always sucked!
posted by wenestvedt at 2:11 PM on February 20 [88 favorites]


How has it been nearly 10 years since the great de-Googling? Wow!

Anyway, pay for Consumer Reports if you really want good product reviews.

Honestly, the continual focus on using the internet for shopping and other consumerism based things when there is so much more interesting things going on online....

I hope HouseFresh continues to be a viable business for whomever runs it. It's a drag when market forces ruin the thing you had going.
posted by hippybear at 2:14 PM on February 20 [18 favorites]


I have never found a useful answer on Quora, so I object to the notion that is has "gotten worse": it always sucked!

This.
If anything, it's simply become more sincerely sucky.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:15 PM on February 20 [8 favorites]


My mother was a liar.

My mother was a world-class professional liar.

She did public relations for a series of organizations which you would recognize as the real-world equivalent of the Legion of Doom. She lied without remorse, without conscience, without hesitation, without any thought to the possibility that lying was wrong. She was giving me lessons in how to lie when I was six.

I spent my childhood saturated in lies, and as I grew older, I had to learn public relations techniques as self-defense. I was literally raised in an environment where learning to defend against falsehood was a matter of survival.

So I've been watching public relations all my life; watching as they develop new techniques, as they shrink further and further into the background even as PR budgets grow, as PR speak has come to dominate the media and now the web. And that's been kind of scary, sure.

But I'm absolutely terrified at the power and utility of the tools that LLMs have handed to public relations. This is a PR person's dream; you can field armies, whole countries of robots to put your opinions out there into the public sphere, you can have your little AI soldiers contribute to conversations like they're real people, making your points time and time again in thousands of discussions all over the internet. And if anyone points out that that's what's happening, they're called paranoid because the idea that people would lie to you to take your money and your political power is absurd, at least at scale.

This article was about air purifiers. The global market for air purifiers is somewhere around ten billion dollars these days, approximately, and is probably going to be a real growth market given what's going on with our atmosphere, so it'd make sense to devote these kinds of PR techniques to it; flooding the zone with shit, as they call it. Making sure that all the review pages that people are likely to see will have the message they want. Sending commenters into forums to promote their point of view. Making sure anything that actually tells the truth is sullied, tarnished, called into question, and pushed down in the search results. All amplified by the newly-unveiled power of endless, effortless bullshit from LLMs. For fucking air purifiers.

Now take a moment to contemplate the public relations forces that are bearing down on the US election this year.

What kind of world can we build on lies?
posted by MrVisible at 2:17 PM on February 20 [100 favorites]


I had sort of seen Quora as the mirror universe of quality hive-mind question/answer websites. I'm amused the author of this piece ever found them useful.

But then, I never searched their air purifier reviews. Maybe that was a good bit of answering there.
posted by hippybear at 2:17 PM on February 20 [5 favorites]


I have never found a useful answer on Quora, so I object to the notion that is has "gotten worse": it always sucked!

I was a Top Writer on Quora (admittedly not a high bar to clear), but the prior suckiness was more human scale. Quora not providing good answers used to be primarily a phenomenon of flesh-and-blood reply guys giving "That's just your opinion, man" answers without any documentation, expertise, or research. The current suckiness is due to an unholy melange of venture capital, SEO, alt-right trolling, and AI-generated nonsense.
posted by jonp72 at 2:19 PM on February 20 [21 favorites]


Anyway, pay for Consumer Reports if you really want good product reviews.

Or see if your local library subscribes.
posted by unknowncommand at 2:37 PM on February 20 [22 favorites]


CR has its limits too (and I think the main link goes into some of that).

Recent example: it took Dr. Gunter badgering them to get them to identity which prenatal vitamins have folic acid vs folate.
posted by spamandkimchi at 2:42 PM on February 20 [8 favorites]


Just anecdotally, this guy is 100% correct. Last month I was looking for bread machine reviews, and literally 95% of the pages I hit were just pushing out utter bullshit, very clearly based on nothing, or at the most one loaf baked. Even / especially big "name" sites like this guy talks about.

Happening across specific "baking fiend" blogs was the only way to get any kind of thorough assessment. And this was with Duck Duck Go! There's so much review and listicle pollution out there that without a very close reading you're like as not to be reading a bunch of AI wanking and random photos.

(I decided on the Zojirushi, but it's out of my budget right now, so I'll just have to wait.)
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:44 PM on February 20 [11 favorites]


I had to look up how to use some slightly obscure gardening thing recently, and all of the pages I found followed a pattern: here is the thing, here is the history of the thing, the thing is popular in these places, thank you for reading about the thing, you can buy the thing at these places.

None of the pages told me how to use the thing. After the first few I gave up, because even if these weren’t identikit AI pages, they were useless seo pages.
posted by The River Ivel at 2:47 PM on February 20 [19 favorites]


Just anecdotally, this guy is 100% correct. Last month I was looking for bread machine reviews, and literally 95% of the pages I hit were just pushing out utter bullshit, very clearly based on nothing, or at the most one loaf baked. Even / especially big "name" sites like this guy talks about.

Happening across specific "baking fiend" blogs was the only way to get any kind of thorough assessment. And this was with Duck Duck Go! There's so much review and listicle pollution out there that without a very close reading you're like as not to be reading a bunch of AI wanking and random photos.

(I decided on the Zojirushi, but it's out of my budget right now, so I'll just have to wait.)


Not to derail, but it's common for bread machines to be given out as wedding gifts & then never get used. Check Craigslist. That's how my wife got our bread machine.
posted by jonp72 at 3:01 PM on February 20 [17 favorites]


We had a bread machine for a long time. We used it a ton when we first got it, and then it went onto a shelf for several years before we rediscovered it for some reason or other, and then back on the shelf again....

We finally donated it to the rummage sale the church across the street holds every year.

Honestly I make more bread now than I did when I owned the bread machine, and I'm making it by hand.

BUT... bread machines work great in some people's lives, so I'm not going to disparage them.
posted by hippybear at 3:08 PM on February 20 [6 favorites]


I actually use ChatGPT4 instead of Google most times; it uses Bing to look things up but at least it doesn't spam me with ads and popups and stuff.
posted by The otter lady at 3:09 PM on February 20 [6 favorites]


This may be slightly aside the point of this thread, but does there exist anywhere a list of sites like HouseFresh that actually do "real" reviews of things? It feels like that would be useful since, for all the reasons outlined in the article, they are generally hard to find.
posted by deadbilly at 3:20 PM on February 20 [8 favorites]


On one hand, while a lot of this is obviously bad, "closing their print operations, turning them into digital-only" is probably not some nefarious scheme. I can count on one hand the periodicals I think will/can survive in print.

On the other hand, even after it was bought by the NYT, which has itself been pretty shit lately, Wirecutter remains a good site for product recommendations. They even have good recommendations for air purifiers, I own a couple of their top pick, and it's great.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:28 PM on February 20 [3 favorites]


> But I'm absolutely terrified at the power and utility of the tools that LLMs have handed to public relations.

and because of this we have a moral responsibility to spread the idea that search engines are useless and that the only reliable method of finding information is to ask specific people rather than attempting to search the entire web. i think if i wanted to go all science and technology studies here i'd start with the idea that knowledge is made in communities and work my way from there to a claim that search engines were a doomed project from the start, since they attempted to provide knowledge that is both trustworthy and also decontextualized from any particular community of knowers.

anyway, search engines delenda est or whatever this has been yr bombastic lowercase pronouncement for the day
posted by bombastic lowercase pronouncements at 3:49 PM on February 20 [29 favorites]


I had to look up how to use some slightly obscure gardening thing recently, and all of the pages I found followed a pattern:

I could never find two sites that agreed on when to trim back big leaf hydrangeas, even before the great LLMenoing. Now I rely on the Time Life books my wife found at a tag sale a few years ago.

I’m not fully with blp here—I don’t think search engines are uniformly bad. Google was really good at surfacing information back in the day, even with all the crap already on the net back then. (I would love to see search results from the PageRank algorithm, as it was circa 2004, against today’s Google results.) But at this point I’m not sure if the model is salvageable or worth saving.
posted by thecaddy at 4:08 PM on February 20 [4 favorites]


(Pronounced “el el em en oh ing”, or maybe “el el em en oh peeing”)
posted by thecaddy at 4:09 PM on February 20 [3 favorites]


buying magazines we love, closing their print operations, turning them into digital-only, laying off the actual journalists who made us trust in their content in the first place, and hiring third-party companies to run the affiliate arm of their sites

Once upon a time you dressed so fine
Threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you?
People call say 'beware doll, you're bound to fall'
You thought they were all kidding you
You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hanging out
Now you don't talk so loud
Now you don't seem so proud
About having to be scrounging your next meal
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:23 PM on February 20 [6 favorites]


She did public relations for a series of organizations which you would recognize as the real-world equivalent of the Legion of Doom. She lied without remorse, without conscience, without hesitation, without any thought to the possibility that lying was wrong. She was giving me lessons in how to lie when I was six.

Reminds me of "Thank You for Smoking". Time for a re-watch!
posted by Fizzy Kimchi at 4:24 PM on February 20 [5 favorites]


>> (I decided on the Zojirushi, but it's out of my budget right now, so I'll just have to wait.)

> Not to derail, but it's common for bread machines to be given out as wedding gifts & then never get used. Check Craigslist. That's how my wife got our bread machine.


so for anyone who's like "if not search engines, then what?" i present to you the above exchange as the answer to your question. or at least, like, a synecdoche for the answer to your question.
posted by bombastic lowercase pronouncements at 4:44 PM on February 20 [8 favorites]


Google search has jumped the shark AFAIAC.

My biggest current frustration with Google is that some searches get you a "shopping page" kind of result instead of a regular search page result. That's fine if you are shopping I guess, but usually I'm looking for actual information, not links to retailers.

Recently, when I've been researching products (like, is product A better than product B?), by far the best information has been in YouTube videos. It drives me up the wall because I am an impatient person who hates watching a video when I could be skimming text, but it's repeatedly been much better in terms of actual informed opinions and experiences.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:03 PM on February 20 [10 favorites]


The Escape Collective, a new cycling website formed by a bunch of writers and editors laid off from places like Cycling Tips and Outside, published a piece about product reviews and the dwindling revenue options for cycling websites and publications.

(Escape Collective is supported solely by readers, and I'm one of them! If you like bike stuff or bike racing, check them out!)
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:22 PM on February 20 [12 favorites]


There's a YT channel Project Farm that does reviews of tools and household items. The editing style is very dry and repetitive, they show every test of every product and every outcome. I always thought the channel could be improved by better editing, until I realized what it is really doing. This channel prides itself on buying every item with their own money and taking no sponsorships or gifted products. Their reputation as a trusted source of real testing data is worth far more than anything else, and showing every step of every test is part of ensuring that people see everything. I think he's become one of the most trusted tool reviewers out there as a result.

As this article states, it takes a lot of time and money to test things thoroughly, and in this case it would not be possible without being on Youtube, as sad as that is. YT's recommendation system allows Project Farm videos to gain views from people of all walks, not just those searching for reviews. You will probably get a Project Farm recommendation if you regularly watch anything remotely 'shop' related. That kind of exposure just is not coming for independent websites.
posted by Rhomboid at 5:25 PM on February 20 [19 favorites]


Quora emerged during a boom time for internet Q&A sites. From the late aughts through the mid-2010s, people could try to crowdsource information on brand-new forums such as Aardvark and Blopboard. They could go to recently rebranded mainstays such as Ask.com (formerly Ask Jeeves) and Pearl.com (formerly JustAnswer.com). Or they could post to the beloved Stack Overflow, the more exclusive Ask Metafilter, or the unadulterated chaos of Yahoo! Answers. ("If There Are No Stupid Questions, Then How Do You Explain Quora? The tragedy of Q&A sites is the story of the internet," The Atlantic, Jan. 9, 2024.)

The site grew more cluttered with ads as the years went by, Suman Kalyan Maity, a postdoctoral researcher at MIT who has studied Quora since 2013, told me. Provocative content started to take over, perhaps because it led to more engagement and then, in turn, to more advertising revenue. Dipto Das, an information scientist at the University of Colorado at Boulder who has published multiple papers on Quora, noticed something similar. As clickbait-type questions proliferated, he told me, the highest-quality users—including the “tech insiders and pundits” over whom The Guardian had earlier marveled—were discouraged from contributing at all. The introduction of the Quora Partners Program in 2018 only made things worse. [...]

How exactly these developments affected Quora’s traffic and revenue is hard to know, because the company doesn’t typically share those numbers. The company has no backup or export tools and no public interface that would allow for queries from external software. It is one of relatively few social-media sites that prohibits the Internet Archive from keeping a record of its pages. Maity told me that Quora had threatened him with legal action if he and his collaborators shared the data they’d collected from the site.
posted by Iris Gambol at 6:21 PM on February 20 [8 favorites]


This may be slightly aside the point of this thread, but does there exist anywhere a list of sites like HouseFresh that actually do "real" reviews of things?

Recent-ish AskMes:

Obsessive single-focus review sites
What are the best focused review sites?
posted by zamboni at 6:58 PM on February 20 [16 favorites]


bombastic lowercase pronouncements bangs the all-search-is-bad drum a lot, and I think they're partially right in that search has become too prevalent. I think web search has its place, because it's very difficult to find the first crack your shell of ignorance on a topic. You want to know about how to get into birdwatching, looking for birdwatching forums, talk with experienced birdwatchers? Without search, where are you going to get your first link, find out where to go in the sea of websites?

One answer is curated web directories, like the Yahoo of old. The biggest example of that still living seems to be Curlie, which is pretty obscure.

Google search has jumped the shark AFAIAC.

Absolutely. I had a search a couple of days ago with seven sponsored links on it. The real links didn't even begin until well down the page. And if you don't see the boldfaced Sponsored message, which is designed to be easy to miss with the boldfacing just to give lip service to "notifying" people, you might well take them as being real results, which is exactly the thing Google stood against in their early days. It seems few remember the days when they put a bright orange box around sponsored links, because sites like Excite actively courted paid search placement. Literally the only thing that's different between that and what Google does now is that tiny Sponsored notice.

Maity told me that Quora had threatened him with legal action if he and his collaborators shared the data they’d collected from the site.

Yikes. And here I thought Quora has loosened up since their earlier "pay us for answers" phase.
posted by JHarris at 7:03 PM on February 20 [4 favorites]


Well, it took 30 years, but I think everyone has finally realized that it’s basically impossible to make money on the internet (if you’re not selling physical stuff) under many forms of capitalism.
posted by rhymedirective at 7:36 PM on February 20 [4 favorites]


Outside

huh, I missed that one.

But I guess, like many of the others, the Cahill/Pelton ship long ago moored in Margaritaville.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:50 PM on February 20


Not to let Google off the hook, but it seems private equity is the real villain here. Search has become a bit like being a journalist in the era of Steve Bannon - you simply can't respond to all the shit being thrown at you constantly.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 8:34 PM on February 20 [7 favorites]


i got momentarily distracted by how great the name 'Dipto Das' is.
posted by ZaphodB at 8:38 PM on February 20 [4 favorites]


What kind of world can we build on lies?
Go to the window. Look outside. Now you know.

I think uBlock Origin stops the 'sponsored' results from Google. At least, when I tried to get some to come up because I couldn't remember seeing any lately, I couldn't.

I don't think it's fair to lay all the blame on Google for shitty search results, although they're clearly complicit. Companies spending billions to manipulate search results are the core problem, in my view. As CheeseDigestsAll says, the firehose of shit that is the Internet has become impossible to filter in any meaningful way.
posted by dg at 9:04 PM on February 20 [2 favorites]


Product reviews look so much like ads to me that I just assumed they were straight up ads; if they were linked to some publication, I presumed that the publication was being paid by the manufacturer. Way back half a century ago, the "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" designated companies that had paid Good Housekeeping both to run their ads, but also to write 'articles' for the same edition that were really just ads as well. If something is reviewed by Good Housekeeping, that means that the manufacturer paid them and part of the fee insures the review would show up when the manufacturer wants it to, when it's most likely to generate sales, right?

It has literally never occurred to me that product reviews are written by anyone who isn't in marketing, except the ones obviously written by cranks. I thought if it was a negative review it was written by someone on the staff of the competition and if it was positive it was written to the specifications of the manufacturer.

I'm now trying to figure out how anyone or any company could make money doing product reviews without being paid by the manufacturer. Surely people don't pay to read product reviews, do they?
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:20 PM on February 20 [2 favorites]


Surely people don't pay to read product reviews, do they?

I pay a European nonprofit to read their reviews. Their recommended toasters and such are fine, if not as "impressive" as the sparkly bling smart products you see featured when you browse the internet and stumble across a New York Times or other magazine review page.

I appreciate the fact that they'll often conclude with "this entire category of product is junk" as they do with a certain type of bone supplement on their homepage now.

And I definitely make use of their more in depth guides and reviews on banks, mortgages, etc. I honestly don't know where other people get this kind of information otherwise.

A few bucks a year or free at the library. Why not.
posted by UN at 10:13 PM on February 20 [10 favorites]


The biggest disconnect I've seen between reviews that are actually meaningful and, well, everything else is ice cream makers. When I was looking for one years ago, I got steered towards one of the cheaper ones—on this one at least, most sites agree. But the most convincing review by far was Ice Cream Science, which had really specific comments about the various aspects of the machine and the ice cream making process, and contained a lot of science about ice cream to boot. Most other review sites either had basic reviews that covered how long it took to make ice cream and whether it was creamy or not, but not much else; or they just gave you a bunch of Amazon review comments and called it a day.

It will not surprise you at all to learn that if you Google for "ice cream maker reviews" Ice Cream Science is all the way down around the 25th search result or so, with all the big media listicles beating it.
posted by chrominance at 10:27 PM on February 20 [5 favorites]


Metafilter: the ones obviously written by cranks.
posted by chromecow at 11:43 PM on February 20 [11 favorites]


Choice is Australia's subscriber paid review organisation. I don't personally give them any money but they are still around and still well regarded.
posted by deadwax at 1:18 AM on February 21


search engines are useless and that the only reliable method of finding information is to ask specific people

Social media could be a middle ground, if used right. You would need a closed list of only people you know in real life and trust are not astroturfers. Then you ask your question to the list. We already know review sites, rating sites like yelp, and comment sections are poisoned by pay-for-recommendations and spam. I guess we just all need our own personal internets.
posted by ctmf at 1:29 AM on February 21 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: The Blopboard it's ok to like.
posted by She Vaped An Entire Sock! at 3:34 AM on February 21 [3 favorites]


> Social media could be a middle ground, if used right. You would need a closed list of only people you know in real life and trust are not astroturfers. Then you ask your question to the list. We already know review sites, rating sites like yelp, and comment sections are poisoned by pay-for-recommendations and spam. I guess we just all need our own personal internets

social media becomes profitable by interposing an obtrusive surfacing algorithm between you and the people you're trying to talk with, and then
  1. placing ads between you and them
  2. preferentially surfacing posts that keep you on the social media site for as long as possible.
there is no reason to seek a middle ground between content discovery via search engines and content discovery via word of mouth, because search is a bad method and word of mouth is a good method.

it is, though, possible to create message boards which establish the conditions required for word of mouth content discovery. one good strategy is to
  1. lightly gate participation on the site, for example by imposing a nominal one-time fee upon people who want to post or comment, while also
  2. using aggressive moderation to keep out shills and other similar trolls
when using this strategy it is acceptable to have a community rating system that allows community members to indicate which posts and comments they think are particularly good, but it is absolutely necessary that highly-rated posts and comments don't become more visible than lower-rated posts and comments. the straightforward thing to do (and possibly the only correct thing to do) is to display posts in reverse chronological order, and then to display comments on those posts in chronological order. this is an anti-shill measure, but also more broadly speaking it's an anti-virality measure. it is much harder for an individual poster, group, or viewpoint to come to dominate the site if popular posters/groups/viewpoints aren't automatically more visible than less-popular ones.

another good strategy is to place a kiosk in a public place — nothing fancy, just a big board, ideally one that's lightly sheltered from the weather — that people can pin flyers to. when using this strategy for content discovery, it's necessary to regularly remove flyers from shills and other similar trolls. if you can't put up a kiosk, a telephone pole can be used as a stopgap.

i must stress that neither of these strategies are in any way a "middle ground" between search and word of mouth, because they're both just versions of word of mouth.
posted by bombastic lowercase pronouncements at 4:37 AM on February 21 [6 favorites]


> I don't think it's fair to lay all the blame on Google for shitty search results, although they're clearly complicit. Companies spending billions to manipulate search results are the core problem, in my view.

search itself is the problem. your take above more or less matches the one taken by sergei brin and larry page back in 1998.1 in this piece they argue that (let me find the quote):
[W]e believe the issue of advertising causes enough mixed incentives that it is crucial to have a
competitive search engine that is transparent and in the academic realm.
i present to you the subsequent careers of sergei brin and larry page as anecdotal evidence toward the impossibility of a useful, non-corrupt search engine.

1: when the undertaker threw mankind off hell in a cell, and plummeted sixteen feet through an announcer's table
posted by bombastic lowercase pronouncements at 4:43 AM on February 21


Surely people don't pay to read product reviews, do they?

As I recently mentioned in another comment I just subscribed to Consumer Reports because I was so tired of the garbage not-sure-this-was-written-by-a-real-person search results when looking for a good milk steamer/frother. Sure, maybe I could just go to Walmart and buy whatever is there, but I prefer to invest in a better quality of appliance and price no longer seems indicative of quality anymore. And I use milk alternatives (oat milk, soy milk) so actual performance with those milks, not just paraphrasing marketing copy, was pretty important to me.
posted by misskaz at 4:49 AM on February 21 [6 favorites]


> You want to know about how to get into birdwatching, looking for birdwatching forums, talk with experienced birdwatchers? Without search, where are you going to get your first link, find out where to go in the sea of websites?

counterpoint: with search, where are you going to get your first link? you're going to get it from the search engine, and search engines, being bad, don't provide good starting points.

on the other hand, without search you can get your first link by asking people you know if they know any birdwatchers, and then by asking the birdwatchers if they know any good birdwatching sites/reference texts/communities. if you don't know anyone who knows a birdwatcher — perhaps you have no one with whom you could have this sort of conversation — you could go to a public library, since librarians are often very good at connecting people with local community groups. and, heck, if you're very lucky you might even find a flyer for a birdwatching group pinned to a kiosk at the library.
posted by bombastic lowercase pronouncements at 4:52 AM on February 21 [2 favorites]


A friend's daughter works for Google. She has an apartment in Boston and pays $3800/month for rent for a one bedroom. In other news, Google owns Chelsea Market in NYC.
posted by DJZouke at 5:01 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]


Not to let Google off the hook, but it seems private equity is the real villain here. Search has become a bit like being a journalist in the era of Steve Bannon - you simply can't respond to all the shit being thrown at you constantly.
They’re co-villains. Google has chosen not to invest more in spam control to keep their profit margins high but if those scammer sites actually cost them money they’d be able to make huge dents very quickly. The problem here is that the sites doing sleazy SEO don’t cost them money but actually generate more revenue so you’re faced with the classic pitfall of trading guaranteed short-term profit for less certain long-term benefits, and MBAs are going to pick the former about as reliably as a moth steers for the porch light.
posted by adamsc at 5:11 AM on February 21 [5 favorites]


Cory Doctorow talks about Housefresh here: Google has lost the spam wars

> The deal we made with Google was, "You monopolize search and use your monopoly rents to ensure that we never, ever try another search engine. In return, you will somehow distinguish between low-effort, useless nonsense and good information. You promised us that if you got to be the unelected, permanent overlord of all information access, you would 'organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.'"

> They broke the deal.

> Companies like CNET used to do real, rigorous product reviews. As Housefresh points out, CNET once bought an entire smart home and used it to test products. Then Red Ventures bought CNET and bet that they could sell the house, switch to vibes-based reviewing, and that Google wouldn't even notice. They were right.

But let's not let Amazon off the hook:

> A viral post by Housefresh – who review air purifiers – describes how Google's algorithmic failures, which send the worst sites to the top of the heap, have made it impossible for high-quality review sites to compete.

> You've doubtless encountered these bad review sites. Search for "Best ______ 2024" and the results are a series of near-identical lists, strewn with Amazon affiliate links.
posted by AlSweigart at 5:44 AM on February 21 [6 favorites]


Google being in bed with advertisers is a problem, but it's not THE problem. The problem is that search was flawed from the start. Only someone capable of comprehending the content of a page can say if it's good or not. PageRank is an heuristic based on popularity. The initial assumption is that the more links there are to a page, the more likely it is to have value.

Was was true in the early years of the web. It's not now, because it's easy to game the system with link farms and junk content. Given that the assumption Google was built on is no longer true, it's not surprising it's failing.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 6:00 AM on February 21 [4 favorites]


CheeseDigestsAll, I tend to agree with your points, but also we need to keep in mind that these content farms are following the SEO algorithm that Google itself dictates. This is why you can't just find a cake recipe without reading the author's life story amongst thirty sidebar and interstitial ads. Google values time spent on page and links, so that's what the content farms deliver.

I'm just glad we have Wikipedia. I lament that we lost Craigslist to scammers.
posted by AlSweigart at 6:22 AM on February 21 [5 favorites]


well, i guess we're going to have to do it. we're going to have to put together a high-quality metafilter-derived web directory. the name for it that immediately springs to my mind isn't great1 but maybe someone can find something better.

1: "mehoo", short for "metafilter's hierarchically-organized oracle". i'm fond of the reference in it but it has the disadvantage of sounding like a pirate talking about their genitals. ("yarr! that's me hoo!")
posted by bombastic lowercase pronouncements at 6:40 AM on February 21 [5 favorites]


"metafilter's excellent hierarchically-organized oracle" is also an acceptable expansion of the name.

on edit: it could be on the domain mehoo.horse, since .horse is the proper top level domain for hierarchically organized replacements for search engines

posted by bombastic lowercase pronouncements at 6:43 AM on February 21 [10 favorites]


I had to look up how to use some slightly obscure gardening thing recently, and all of the pages I found followed a pattern: here is the thing, here is the history of the thing, the thing is popular in these places, thank you for reading about the thing, you can buy the thing at these places.

For gardening advice, I usually add '.edu' or '.ext' in my search since many public universities have master gardener and extension programs. That at least pushes the junk down a bit lower in your results.
posted by Think_Long at 6:44 AM on February 21 [7 favorites]


"mehoo"

Okay, but how about 'exactlywatt'?

(Come for the poem, stay for the terrible AI-generated 'analysis.')
posted by box at 6:45 AM on February 21


> well, i guess we're going to have to do it.

Actually, you might be on to something here.

When I want to find a certain Metafilter post, I often use DuckDuckGo/Google with the "site:metafilter.com" search term. Or even when I just have a "what did mefites say about this thing, if anything?" thought.

I wonder how far we could get with a browser plugin that looks at your search term, determines what curated whitelisted domains it would be best suited for, and then just piggybacks on Google for search of only those domains. Something that gives priority to wikipedia.org and old.reddit.com (for as long as Reddit isn't complete garbage) and skips dailymail.co.uk and forbes.com.

A sort of "allowlist of non-enshittified domains". (I'm sure I'm reinventing something here.)
posted by AlSweigart at 7:03 AM on February 21 [3 favorites]


oh i am 100% on to something here.
posted by bombastic lowercase pronouncements at 7:06 AM on February 21 [3 favorites]


that said, i can't get onboard with the "search only permitted domains" strategy, even though domain-specific search is streets ahead of trying to search the whole web.

but yeah i'm not talking about a tool for searching communities, which i think is what you're talking about. i'm talking about a community-maintained directory on a large range of topics. a tool for searching communities can be helpful in building that, but it is not itself that.

oh, also: it is absolutely necessary for the directory to be 1) hand-maintained by community members making conscious decisions about what to include or not include 2) arranged in such a way that people can by serendipity find things they didn't even realize they were looking for.
posted by bombastic lowercase pronouncements at 7:12 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]


Fakespot is useful.
posted by gottabefunky at 7:19 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]


My wife reads reviews and finds the best reviewed thing. I don't I just buy whatever. For most things, I am ahead with less effort that I can expend on something else. Reviews, even Consumer Reports, are basically worthless, but if you can read it for free at the Library, then maybe it's ok.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:28 AM on February 21


The other day I was watching random reels on Facebook and it decided to show me a video from a person explaining how to pay for their course that would give you step by step instructions on how to produce blog article reviews of products you've never used or even seen, using AI to generate both the text and the pictures, from which you'd make money (on affiliate links).
posted by joannemerriam at 7:35 AM on February 21 [3 favorites]


The Internet's golden era is long over. For a delirious decade, search worked, ads were relevant and tolerable, reviewers worked on reputation, engagement was earned with quality content. Man, it was great. (I was a part of this glorious era in the 90s with an independent viddy game review site.) I remember sitting in the early 90s in my individual, door closable office at my day job and thinking, wow, what if someone made a site where you could post, and pick friends, and the site would show you just posts from your friends. What a simple idea, huh. Little did I know it would lead to the death of the internet. Point a firehose at your brain and give it to a corporation to manage and it will include precisely as much macerated shit as you will tolerate. And the pot is getting hotter, and no one is jumping out.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:55 AM on February 21 [9 favorites]


> what if someone made a site where you could post, and pick friends, and the site would show you just posts from your friends. What a simple idea, huh. Little did I know it would lead to the death of the internet.

nah. the death of the Internet was when people started thinking that google was good at searching it. the good Internet you remember existed only because no one thought that lycos or altavista were good ways of finding web content.

basically the social media problem is downstream of the search engine problem.
posted by bombastic lowercase pronouncements at 7:59 AM on February 21 [3 favorites]


I read an interesting related article about Paste Magazine’s ad issues that were heightened when they bought Jezebel.
posted by ellieBOA at 8:03 AM on February 21


I now realize I mentioned Project Farm without linking, so here is a link to all Project Farm videos. If you were not aware, on a YT channel page you can click on the magnifying glass icon to search videos from that channel only. I do that a lot with PF videos before buying things. Yes, it's youtube, and yes, that sucks, but we're desperate here.
posted by Rhomboid at 8:34 AM on February 21 [5 favorites]


> Yes, it's youtube, and yes, that sucks

we've all found their videos via word of mouth, so it's all good. thank you for braving the useless morass of a web that search built and against all odds dredging up an item of value. salute emoji to you!
posted by bombastic lowercase pronouncements at 9:12 AM on February 21 [2 favorites]


You think things are bad now, just wait until we have pages and pages of reviews written by AI for products that don't even exist.
posted by Lanark at 9:23 AM on February 21 [4 favorites]


So, bombastic lowercase pronouncements, are you saying you don't like search engines? It's not that you're wrong, but give it a rest already, Jesus. We heard you.
posted by ctmf at 9:27 AM on February 21 [10 favorites]


We know it all sucks, so why can't we boycott all of it?

I was told how wonderful Quora was by a friend, and so came late to Quora. It sounded kind of spammy, and lo, so it was.

Reddit and Twitter (even before the suckthatisX, just too popular, so I shunned them, because while at first entertaining, what a time suck! Now they're just crap.
Tried Facebook, and it was fun for a while, but the drama and the ads and eventually the repetitive blahblahblah was too much. I so resent that clubs and businesses have dumped their websites for FB, and I bitch about it to them, realizing that they are attempting to attract more eyeballs, because you can't find a website unless you know someone has one to begin with. Things are getting lost in Suckbook now too; the overwhelming ads are hiding that info.

I loved and used Craigslist for years, now it's only good for my evil entertainment when I feel like baiting trolls. Eh, that's not healthy for me, wastes my time, and just encourages them, even if it occasionally pisses them off.

Why can't we just ignore all these shit sites? It's an addiction, as well being enmeshed so deeply into our lives. Can't do anything without providing a google password. All the authentication crap was supposed to save us, and I think we're heading down an evil path with that.

AI will be the downfall of society. Yes, I'm an alarmist.

My mother was a world-class professional liar.
She did public relations ...


There was a post on the Blue wherein I commented that the advertising business was evil and people who worked in it sold their souls for a paycheck. I was generally shouted down, but still maintain that advertising and PR are staffed by lying liars who lie and have no conscious. Grifters and snake oil salesmen rule.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:29 AM on February 21 [4 favorites]


CR has its limits too (and I think the main link goes into some of that).

Recent example: it took Dr. Gunter badgering them to get them to identity which prenatal vitamins have folic acid vs folate.


"Badgering" seems a weird take on what Dr. Gunter says happened, which is: "I emailed Consumer Reports.com and sent them the information from the CDC, and I am pleased to say that they were very responsive and, after reviewing the data, amended their page and now clearly state which prenatal vitamins contain folic acid and which do not!" (emphasis mine)
posted by cooker girl at 9:36 AM on February 21


I don't want to pick on anyone but I Just Cannot Stop Thinking About using ChatGPT to find the best product.

1) Ok, so ChatGPT uses Bing search. And exactly these types of articles are the top results in Bing (or Google or DuckDuckGo)
2) And layering ChatGPT on top won't help
3) Because ChatGPT is just going to grab the top listing from a couple articles and spit them back out to you
4) Its not going to do some kind of analysis to find the common one or the "best" one
5) Because ChatGPT doesn't know what makes a good air purifier. It hasn't thought through what people need. It doesn't have a human body. It doesn't have lungs that can get irritated by wildfire smoke, or a nose that can smell burning wood, or eyes that can see smoke turning the midday sky orange. Its a fancy auto-complete
6) Out of curiosity, I just asked Bing Copilot what the best air purifier is for pets. It returned an air purifier each from thesprucepets, forbes, bing, and popsci. Plus a "Bing Personal Shopper" insert with links to 3 *other* air purifiers on Amazon
7) If you're wondering about those websites, why yes, they are ones mentioned in the original article as having useless recommendations
8) Deep breath
9) I don't have any other recommendation other than to go to a physical store with a return policy and lawyers that probably make sure they don't sell items that are dangerous
posted by Is It Over Yet? at 9:59 AM on February 21 [5 favorites]


Heres Google Gemini:

> write a review for the hitachi ep-350 air purifier


Hitachi EP-350 Air Purifier Review

The Hitachi EP-350 is a mid-range air purifier designed for small to medium-sized rooms (up to 310 square feet). It features a True HEPA filter, a carbon filter, and a Plasmacluster Ionizer which the brand claims helps remove allergens, dust, pet dander, and odors.

Here's a breakdown of its key features and how it performs in different aspects:

Pros:
Effective filtration: The True HEPA filter captures 99.97% of airborne particles as small as 0.3 microns, including dust, pollen, pet dander, and mold spores. The carbon filter also helps remove household odors like smoke and cooking smells.
Plasmacluster Ionizer: This technology is claimed to reduce airborne allergens and bacteria by emitting positive and negative ions. While its effectiveness is debated, some users report positive experiences with reducing pet odors and airborne irritants.
Quiet operation: The EP-350 operates at a whisper-quiet level, even on its highest setting, making it suitable for bedrooms or other noise-sensitive areas.
Automatic mode: The air purifier automatically adjusts its fan speed based on the level of air pollution detected by its sensors.
Energy efficient: The EP-350 is Energy Star certified, meaning it consumes less energy than other comparable models.

Cons:
Limited coverage area: The EP-350 is only suitable for small to medium-sized rooms. For larger rooms, you might need a more powerful model.
Replacement filters can be expensive: The True HEPA and carbon filters need to be replaced every 12 months, which can add to the ongoing cost of ownership.
Plasmacluster Ionizer concerns: Some studies have raised concerns about the potential health risks of ionizers, although the evidence is inconclusive.
Limited smart features: The EP-350 lacks Wi-Fi connectivity or app control, which might be a drawback for users who prefer smart home integration.

Overall:
The Hitachi EP-350 is a decent air purifier for small to medium-sized rooms. It offers effective filtration with its True HEPA filter and carbon filter, and the Plasmacluster Ionizer might be a bonus for some users. However, its limited coverage area, high filter replacement costs, and lack of smart features might be dealbreakers for others. Consider your needs and budget carefully before making a decision.

Here are some additional things to keep in mind:

User reviews are generally positive, with many users praising its quiet operation and effectiveness in reducing allergens and pet dander.
Some users report that the Plasmacluster Ionizer can have a slight ozone smell initially, but it usually disappears after a few days of use.
It's important to compare the EP-350 to other air purifiers in its price range before making a purchase.

I hope this review helps you make an informed decision about the Hitachi EP-350 air purifier!

--- and just to be clear, the Hitachi EP-350 does not exist.
posted by Lanark at 11:40 AM on February 21 [26 favorites]


So, anti-meta...

I like the IKEA air purifiers, personally. They have a pretty loud "clean the air right fucking now" setting and a basically silent "get rid of the garbage slowly" setting, and replacement filtration media is dang cheap compared to everything else.

I've used the medium sized one with the activated carbon insert to clear up the occasional laser engraver smoke and stink (basically "things on fire") and it does a pretty good job, though not as fast as the manufacturer's air cleaners that cost 20x as much. What I am saying is they're great value for money.

The little lunch-box sized one is good for little rooms and little situations but won't take the stink out of a bathroom because no carbon filter. (use the medium sized one for that) I do use it to suck up manicure & pedicure dust, just sitting it on the table as a workspace, and it's excellent for that. It would similarly be good for any kind of particulate generating craft, but won't get rid of invisible soldering fumes (again, no carbon).

I've recommended these pretty consistently and we now have three of them and they do just what they need to. And also remind you when it's time to change the media, with a little resettable light.
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:08 PM on February 21 [1 favorite]


Stuff like this reminds me of how uncritical people are in general of news media, particularly when it comes to reporting on scientific studies. The default level of skepticism should be that if you don't get an explanation of 1) their methodology that 2) makes sense and is 3) followed up with quantified outcomes of that testing, just consider it bullshit that someone is making a buck off of.

Which is to say that product testing even on the level of, say, Consumer Reports or ConsumerLab is still a far, far cry away anything like a meta-analysis of dozens of RCTs. Which is funny because people are much more skeptical of, say, modern medicine than they are of like The Strategist's Top 10 Supplements to Help You Sleep when said supplements have 0.001% of the same amount of evidence to it and have no regulatory body that checks for heavy metal contamination or, ironically, the inclusion of black market prescription drugs.
posted by paimapi at 12:16 PM on February 21 [1 favorite]


BUT... bread machines work great in some people's lives, so I'm not going to disparage them.

My mom still makes homemade pizza (mmm, homemade pizza) from time to time, and being in her 80s, isn't quite up for making everything from scratch nowadays. So there are uses for them.

Also, I'm old enough to remember when people were going on about how the internet would be an Utopia of bringing people and ideas together and etc. etc., which is probably at least partly where the idea of "ask" sites came from. Considering humanity's darker tendencies to turn things to crap, we're probably lucky the Golden Age lasted as long as it did.

Still, at least there's one relatively reliable Ask site out there.
posted by gtrwolf at 1:19 PM on February 21


so for anyone who's like "if not search engines, then what?" i present to you the above exchange as the answer to your question. or at least, like, a synecdoche for the answer to your question.

What? That doesn't answer the question at all. The question is not "where can I buy a breadmaker," but "WHICH breadmaker should I buy."

Your friend can tell you they like their breadmaker and bought it on Craigslist, but your friend isn't you, doesn't have your kitchen/electrical/counterspace/skill limitations, and has probably tried, at best, 2 breadmakers ever. Their recommendation isn't nothing, but it also isn't necessarily good.

Look I'm a satisficer through and through; I mostly just buy whatever seems fine, plus I have a few retailers I basically like and trust for the handful of things where it actually might matter. But I also just spent five months using my personal network and the AskMe folks and a subreddit network to try to get a fucking person to do my fucking taxes and do you know what worked? NONE OF THEM. I STILL HAVE NONE ACCOUNTANT, because everyone I've contacted has been through nine rounds of layoffs and are doing 3 accountants' work and cannot take new clients.

Sometimes the reason search networks are fucking worthless is because all of the products and services have been gutted to nonexistence.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:16 PM on February 21 [7 favorites]


Stuff like this reminds me of how uncritical people are in general of news media, particularly when it comes to reporting on scientific studies. The default level of skepticism should be that if you don't get an explanation of 1) their methodology that 2) makes sense and is 3) followed up with quantified outcomes of that testing, just consider it bullshit that someone is making a buck off of.

I think at least some of this problem is that I can't be an expert on everything and it's only in the recentish (i.e. 25ish years) past that I've been expected to be an expert on everything, just to avoid getting scammed when buying a basic household appliance, or to consume "what is happening in the world" level of news.

If you grew up before that was the case, especially, this can be incredibly daunting, but even if you didn't, it's... a lot. It's honestly a lot. Our kids now buy things by tiktok videos because they surmise they've got a lower chance of being scammed there than they have from reviews on amazon/google, and honestly I'm not sure that they're not right...

Similarly: "Ask someone" only works if you have someone who _does_ have the required knowledge available at the time, and this is just not true all too often, and doubly so when it's a big ticket item (see: the week of my life I lost researching to buy a new wheelchair recently.... since many of those are aimed at seniors, it's scam city out there!)
posted by jaymzjulian at 3:33 PM on February 21 [4 favorites]


Here is an example of how I use ChatGPT4 to shop for products.

https://chat.openai.com/share/ac3c6d41-66b5-448c-ae8a-261b9b8fd201
posted by The otter lady at 6:40 PM on February 21


That's pretty impressive, The Otter Lady. But I wonder how capable ChatGPT4 is at avoiding the same things so many are struggling with, such as paid-for reviews and spam farms that auto-generate reviews and the like?
posted by dg at 8:06 PM on February 21


pages and pages of reviews written by AI for products that don't even exist

Or, AI creating the products themselves.

Luckily...I already know that Amazon has turned into a smoking garbage dump if you're looking for books. I did find myself dredging through there this week, which just reconfirmed my suspicions.

Not gonna link, but try this: search for Vanuatu in Books.

Check out the travel guides that come up. It's like an geological record of the enshittification of this niche.

Oldest layer: Lonely Planet guides, from one of the actual companies earlier generations relied on in pre-Internet days. They're out of print, basically. Used ones--mostly useless for planning purposes, some are over 20 years old--are available. They're fossils now. Some are cheap, but some sellers are letting the algorithms inflate the prices to crazy extremes; I saw one for more than $300.

Next layer: amateur entries. Self-published items from "some dude". Quality unknown. How accurate are these? How comprehensive? Is this guy biased in some way, some racist, some weirdo? Who knows? Maybe it's good, do you feel lucky? At one time, buying a physical, paper copy might have protected you in a world filled with instant Kindle-only products, but print-on-demand has removed that bit of gatekeeping: print books can be just as bad.

Top layer: a sludge of what appear to be auto-generated "latest guide for 2024" items. The descriptions sound auto-generated to me, overly enthusiastic and lacking in specific detail on the subject. Cover art is formulaic and awkward. Many are parts of longer artificial-looking series of the same type of "guides" by the same author--who are these people? Do they exist? Did they really go to these places? Occasionally an actual human leaves a review. "This book was total crap. Nothing you couldn't find from five minutes of Google searching." It really looks like somebody out there has set up a pipeline to generate and spew out junk with little or no human interaction, and they expect people to eat it.

At one time, there was a real product and an industry here. I pity a naïve person who wanders into this grift as a customer, thinking there might be substance here. Those of us who have been around a while know what we used to have, and what we've lost. In the meantime, we're swimming in sludge.
posted by gimonca at 4:57 AM on February 22 [5 favorites]


Not reviews related, but here's my "search sucks" current quandary.

I have a 30+ year old Husqvarna Viking sewing machine that I got from a friend and for which I do not have the user manual. I'm taking a sewing class right now, but in the class we learn on Singers, and the Husqvarna is different enough in the little things that I really, really could use that damn user manual.

Searching "Husqvarna Viking 250 user manual" yields a bunch of results, most of which are either user manual malware farms that bombard you with popups that your computer has been compromised, or sketchy not-sure-i-should-hand-over-my-credit-card sites that want to charge you $8 or so for a PDF download of who knows what quality.

The Husqvarna site itself does come up in search about halfway down the page, but not for the right machine, and unfortunately for the right machine the Download button for the user manual leads to a 404 not found page. (Yes, I have emailed them and am hoping for a response.)

My only other option right now is YouTube, and last night I was lucky to eventually find 2 helpful YouTube videos that combined showed me how to wind and thread a bobbin, but it's such an inefficient way to get information. And I honestly think there might be 3 total videos across all of YouTube featuring my machine or even similar models, so if I run into any other issues, I'm probably out of luck.

I label this a search problem, because these user manual websites absolutely dominate the search results. I'm honestly surprised Husqvarna's site shows up in the results at all. Even more frustrating is that I know I found the user manual online a few years ago because I used it to sew masks in the early days of the pandemic, but I don't see the download on my computer and now I can't re-find a reputable source.
posted by misskaz at 7:13 AM on February 22 [2 favorites]


If it's only a few dollars for the PDF, go buy a Visa gift card or something and use that to pay.
posted by hippybear at 7:36 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]


Is the 250S the same or similar enough?
https://www.husqvarnaviking.com/cmsctx/culture/en-us/-/support/H-CLASS-250S

I don't know how you quoted your search (or if you used quotes at all) but selective quoting is usually better. In this case only the company name and the 250 worked for me.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:36 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]


Duck Duck Go is slightly better at searches. @misskaz, do any of these help you? They have a 250 and a viking rose 250 edition on that first result.
posted by hydra77 at 7:38 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]


Also this works: https://www.manua.ls/husqvarna/250/manual
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:40 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]


The H Class 250S is not the same machine or even close, mine is the Sew Easy 250 which looks like this. I believe the manual might be shared with the Sew Easy 210 and 230 models as well.

Thank you all very much, you are very brave clicking those user manual website links because the first time I clicked one I got bombarded with scammy popups! Much love to Mefi.
posted by misskaz at 8:09 AM on February 22


I can't be an expert on everything

You don't need to be an expert at anything to be skeptical of review sites if you focus on methodology and quantification. The point is minimizing the probability of being scammed by some ad-rev driven AI/poorly paid freelancer farm - you'll still buy inferior products from time to time (pretty much every Wirecutter product I've ever purchased I was meh on) but the chances of it being complete garbage is lower.

If the site doesn't tell you how it reviews things, provide reasons for why it reviews them, and then gives you quantified data tied to the abovementioned methodology then it's just garbage (eg PC Gamer's Best Case Fans). If it does the above but only measures a few things then it's mediocre (eg Tom's Hardware's comparison of two fans). If it goes above and beyond to the point where most readers wouldn't even give a shit, then there's a much better chance that they are serious hobbyists who actually care about this stuff (eg HW Coolings 43-page review of a single fan).

Now you don't have to read 43 pages of granular data on the noise frequencies a fan makes when it pulls air through a thin vs thick cooling radiator - that's why Conclusion pages exist. But you do have to spend time digging for better review sites and, hopefully, supporting them by disabling your ad-blocker and donating to them when you have disposable income. Like the main article says, sites like these are vanishingly rare because people have such low skepticism when it comes to product reviews - it takes time to find good sites who do legitimate reviews and each and every one of them is a resource made scarcer in a hyper-consumerist world.
posted by paimapi at 8:19 AM on February 22


That's pretty impressive, The Otter Lady. But I wonder how capable ChatGPT4 is at avoiding the same things so many are struggling with, such as paid-for reviews and spam farms that auto-generate reviews and the like?

I'm sure it doesn't do a great job at that, but it does at least as well as I could manage, and does it a lot faster. And I don't see any ads, nor popups, or demands that I download an app to continue shopping. And I'm pretty sure that it also means that my shopping isn't being tracked by The Internet (at least, I haven't been spammed with Roomba ads since asking that)...

Is it perfect? No way. But it's fun to use, it doesn't have its own agenda; it doesn't give a crap if I buy anything or not, and I can 'talk to it', argue with it, explore different options, go rambling off on a tangent, ask it to compare two products based on criteria I select, and then ask it to consider all my previous preferences and apply them to searching for a standup vac instead. All in one window. It's still fallible, just as the Internet is.

ChatGPT4 is a lot better at keeping it real than 3.5; I've rarely hit a hallucination and it's more willing to admit it just doesn't know a thing, rather than make something up. Rather than fight the internet head on, I'll happily use a slightly daft guru as my Virgil.
posted by The otter lady at 9:21 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]


Sew Easy 250 which looks like this

Are you sure the "Sew Easy" thing is more than branding added to a Viking 250? That sure looks like what one refurbisher lists as simply the "Rebsew Viking 250 Electronic," and that appears to be the same machine as in the manua.ls link.

That manual's pagination (lubrication discussed on p.32) also aligns with the discussion here, which looks like the same base machine (minus the 'sew easy' logo, and fewer settings because it's a 230, presumably).

If not, you might try emailing that store to see if they can help you out with a manual (or parts).
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:22 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]


I have never found a useful answer on Quora, so I object to the notion that is has "gotten worse": it always sucked!

You know how to use the web, and a library, and have a working bullshit 'filter'. None of these things are true of a HUGE number of potential ad impressions. Appealing to people like you (us!) is not their business model, in any way.
posted by DigDoug at 11:10 AM on February 22 [2 favorites]


Yahoo lays off the leaders of Engadget [The Verge]

/ Ten people at the outlet are losing their jobs, and the editorial staff will be split into two sections. A memo says strategy will focus more on traffic and collaboration with sales and SEO.
posted by hippybear at 12:18 PM on February 22 [3 favorites]


Are you sure the "Sew Easy" thing is more than branding added to a Viking 250?

I'm not sure about much here, haha. But I mentioned Sew Easy in case it helped with searching.

Luckily my local sewing machine shop (same place I'm taking the class) has already fixed and tuned it up for me, and even found a replacement knob for one of the stitch selector dials that was missing, though it sounded like it took a bit of legwork to find one. I should be ok finding parts should I need them in the future, and thanks to MeFi I should be good on the manual once I'm in front of my personal computer to download it.

This derail is really just evidence that I should have just posted an AskMe question.
posted by misskaz at 1:24 PM on February 22 [3 favorites]


I think this derail is an excellent example of the damage that's been done to the internet lately, and the ways in which the internet is routing around the damage.

And, I think, a reminder of just how valuable the community that we've built here really is.
posted by MrVisible at 1:48 PM on February 22 [7 favorites]




Vice burned through a shit ton of money.
Vice’s news chief Subrata De defended her $780,000 annual compensation and a big bonus payment saying that her pay was commensurate with her experience.

The Vice Union took to Twitter on Tuesday accusing Vice of “rampant mismanagement,” and “corporate greed.” In a statement, the union shared that $1.6 billion in funding “disappeared in less than a decade.”
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:56 PM on February 22


My concern about using ChatGPT or similar is that... well, isn't it just pulling text from the plethora of fake reviews anyway? So yes, it might mean less dealing with less banner ad popup nonsense you get browsing a lot of those kinds of websites. But the 'recommended product' from ChatGPT is just going to be whatever company is best at spamming the internet's affiliate-link websites, forums and and brand websites anyway. Or, inevitably — if it's not already happening now — it's going to be whichever company pays OpenAI to promote their product. This is a venture capital backed company after all, is it not?

Since you're basing your decision on a sales pitch anyway, you might as well go to the local shop, ask what works, and buy whatever they recommend. Or just pick whatever is promoted on your favorite e-commerce site ... If you're not making a decision based on an actual review, why bother reading one, even if filtered via a chatbot?
posted by UN at 1:10 AM on February 23 [3 favorites]


Just anecdotally, this guy is 100% correct. Last month I was looking for bread machine reviews, and literally 95% of the pages I hit were just pushing out utter bullshit, very clearly based on nothing, or at the most one loaf baked. Even / especially big "name" sites like this guy talks about.

It's not serious astroturfing but I have been laughing about Tom's Hardware's fitness blog style posts for the past month. They started out a year or two ago with stories like "I did workout X for a year and here is what happened to me". Then it became 6 months about a year ago. Then 1 month. Then 1 week.

Now it is "I did exercise X once in 24 hours and here is what happened"
posted by srboisvert at 1:30 AM on February 23 [3 favorites]


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