Google is the go-to search engine for most internet users, but sometimes its results can get a little weird, thanks to the magic of algorithms. So the company is looking at altering its “snippets” box to display multiple sources.
Google “featured snippets” appear at the top of search results in a white box. It’s designed to summarize or highlight a website that can probably answer your question. But the snippets function hasn’t always been accurate.
Last year, it promoted fringe websites that claimed the Earth was flat and that dolphins were descended from aliens. It made for some amusing tweets, as Google Home speakers spouted some bizarre information, but it was not a good look for Google overall.
The company has since revamped snippets to shun questionable content. But on Tuesday, Google said it still needs refinement. “Sometimes, a single featured snippet isn’t right for every question,” the company wrote in a blog post penned by Danny Sullivan, a former reporter who recently joined Google.
To solve this problem, Google is testing showing more than one featured snippet when it comes to debatable topics, like whether reptiles make good pets.
“People who search for ‘are reptiles good pets‘ should get the same featured snippet as ‘are reptiles bad pets‘ since they are seeking the same information: how do reptiles rate as pets? However, the featured snippets we serve contradict each other,” Sullivan wrote.
Google does this because its search algorithms will favor websites that closely match what you requested. As a result, the most objective, well-rounded answer can be usurped by a website that only argues one side.
In response, Google wants to bring “diverse perspectives” from multiple websites into the snippets feature. For now, the company is merely “exploring” this possible solution, according to Tuesday’s blog post. But the new format is slated to arrive soon for more mundane queries, such as “how to set up call forwarding,” a question that is best answered depending on which telephone carrier you use.
“Featured snippets will never be absolutely perfect, just as search results overall will never be absolutely perfect,” Sullivan wrote. “On a typical day, 15 percent of the queries we process have never been asked before.”
To help Google weed out questionable featured snippets, users can click on the “feedback” link at the bottom of a snippet, and select why it’s problematic.
Google isn’t the only company trying to offer more accurate answers to complicated questions. Microsoft’s Bing search engine has begun featuring snippets from Reddit discussions on debatable topics.