Googlewhack at your own risk

During NI Week, Editor in Chief Joe Feeley heard about Googlewhacking. Do you Googlewhack? "Play at your own risk," he warns.

By Joe Feeley, Editor in Chief

ONE OF THE more reliably attended features at an automation industry event is the venerable expert panel discussion, wherein a handful of mostly recognized and respected mainstays and observers offer insights on where our biz is headed.

At NI Week in Austin last month, a panel that featured National Instruments’ CEO and co-founder, James Truchard, and Jerry McGuire, general manager of media platforms and services for Analog Devices, spent a bit of its time—in recognition of the 10th anniversary of Netscape browser technology—marveling at the changes the digital world has made to the way we use web search tools in place of hard storage. Whether it’s phone books, catalogs, or buyers guides, the Internet eats hard copies of directory-centric information.

Ted Rappaport, professor in the wireless networking and communications group in the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Engineering, stated that digital information now is doubling every 18 months. This doubling won’t even take a month before very long. 

I nearly gagged when Doug Marinaro, vice president of software and consulting services for MTS Systems, noted that a new blog now appears on the Internet every two seconds.

This is what engaged me in the discussion with them. I agreed that online search is great when you pretty much know what you’re after—such as looking for a non-smoking Brazilian restaurant in the Uptown neighborhood that’s open on Mondays.

My argument with them is that our online technical searches usually begin on Google too, which, for better or worse, actually is the number one place where you start. However, the results almost always are not good at all.

Far more often than not, I said, the search results return page upon page of hits. Regrettably, 99% of them are broken links, vendor-biased, too old, entirely worthless, or just vendor web sites themselves. It’s simply not an effective response. The maddening problem, of course, is sorting through it all to find that handful of legitimately helpful hits. Most of us don’t have the time. I asked the panel if they foresaw help on the way.

The panelists acknowledged the problem, but could offer no good alternatives or reasons for near-term optimism about real “super-search” tools for us.

Truchard got a laugh from the audience, saying he longed for a button on the search engine labeled, “So tell me what search words I should have used!”

If nothing else, it reinforces my belief that our effort to make a no-nonsense, time-effective site that you depend on for motion control issues is as important today as when we first dynamited our old web site and started over. But, as always, you need to tell me what you think it does well. More importantly, tell me what it still needs. 

Another thing about NI Week: It always makes time to celebrate the efforts of small-company innovators who use its products to create unique, vibrant, and highly useful control solutions and test and measurement systems.

Some of the 2005 winners built systems to test the production precision and performance of components ranging from ZigBee devices to cell phone LCD assemblies to spark plugs.

It reminds me that many of them really are the unsung heroes that make your component suppliers look good. Specialized test and measurement tools such as these are an important, behind-the-curtain reason that product reliability has improved.

I have one last Google bit of info from the panel that actually explains my headline. Be advised, they say, that Googlewhacking is sweeping the planet. Its premise is diabolically simple. Find a two-word search term that returns one hit. Not dozens, hundreds, or thousands of hits. Not zero hits. Just one. Play at your own risk.