Protests broke Reddit hack for useful Google search results—and Google knows it

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Protests broke Reddit hack for useful Google search results—and Google knows it

Ongoing protests regarding Reddit’s upcoming API price change on July 1 are rattling the Reddit community, but they’re not the only ones impacted. Those who navigate Google’s ad-littered, search-engine-optimized (SEO) results by adding “Reddit” to their query have seen their experience hampered, too. According to CNBC, Google’s aware that its search results need fine-tuning through appendages like “site:reddit.com.” However, Google’s response to this problem fails to address the core reasons people modify their search queries like this: There’s demand for results delivering human (not necessarily influencer) voices and that aren’t listed due to people manipulating Google’s algorithm.

People rely on the Reddit hack for Google search results to avoid things that often float to the top of results pages—websites built on SEO but lack reliable or relevant content. But since the Reddit blackout started June 12 and was followed by other forms of user protest, that trick is less effective. As of this writing, over 2,400 subreddits are still private in protest, according to the Reddark_247 counter on Twitch, while others are read-only, suddenly labeled as not safe for work (NSFW), or dedicated to images of John Oliver.

On Monday, CNBC, citing an audio recording of a company-wide meeting from earlier this month, reported that Prabhakar Raghavan, a Google SVP who heads Google Search, “admitted users are unhappy when employees asked about the Reddit blackouts and their impact on results.”

“Many of you may wonder how we have a search team that’s iterating and building all this new stuff and yet somehow, users are still not quite happy,” Raghavan reportedly said.

During the meeting, a Google employee reportedly asked how Google would better prioritize “authentic discussion” in search results. According to CNBC, Google CEO Sundar Pichai responded by saying Google users who add the names of forums like Reddit to their searches are more in search of “more comprehensive answers” than “blue links.”

The wrong perspective

CNBC reported that HJ Kim, VP of engineering of Google Search, pointed to Perspectives as being an answer to disappointing social media search results, while admitting that the feature has room for improvement. Perspectives is a filter on top of Google’s search results that users can select to view only “long- and short-form videos, images and written posts that people have shared on discussion boards, Q&A sites, and social media platforms,” according to a May 10 Google blog post. A graphic on the blog shows results coming from the likes of Reddit, TikTok, YouTube, Twitter, and Quora. It began as a filter for Top Stories news results and gave general search results on Friday, Google said via Twitter.

However, those using the Reddit search hack usually aren’t looking for TikTok influencers or  YouTube videos loaded with sponsors. They’re not just after social media; they’re more likely looking for quick access to human voices and perspectives in a digestible thread or discussion. A feature that’s essentially a social media filter doesn’t address Google search’s inherent problem of frequently finding irrelevant junk just because it plays well with Google’s search algorithms. Google didn’t immediately respond to Ars’ request for comment on the reported company meeting or how Perspectives avoids people using SEO tactics to bolster unhelpful content.

Google’s release of Perspectives, though, is well-timed, as Reddit is still facing user backlash for refusing to relent on API pricing and dismissing user outrage. Interestingly, Reddit originally claimed it wanted to charge for API access to prevent AI chatbots, like Google’s Bard, which is partially trained on Reddit’s user-generated content, from profiting off it for free. As protestors have upended Reddit and briefly brought it to a complete halt, they’ve reminded Reddit how dependent it is on free, user-generated content. Now Google inadvertently is getting that reminder, too.

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