I'm a programmer. In programming, people talk about how the ability to Google is such an important skill. No one knows everything. In practice, people are always looking things up and running into weird situations that they have to figure out.

That's not what this post is about. Not quite. This post is about the decision to give it a google in the first place.

Poker

Here's an example. I play poker. It's hard to get good at poker, but not sucking at poker isn't very hard. Don't play junky hands preflop. Don't open-limp. Learn some basic poker math such as pot odds. If you can follow basic guidelines like that, you won't suck.

Yet if you sit down at a $1-2 game in Vegas, where hundreds of dollars are exchanging hands, people who have been playing poker longer than I have been alive often don't understand these basic ideas. Ideas that you would learn if you spent ten minutes googling "basics of poker strategy". You'd come across articles like How Not to Suck at Poker and you wouldn't be making such mistakes at the table.

As an even more extreme example, I've played in home games where despite playing poker for many years, people don't know even more basic things such as sizing your bets according to the size of the pot. Betting $20 into a $200 pot is a very small bet even if $20 feels like a lot of money. Your opponent only needs to put in $20 to have the chance at a $220 pot. Great risk-reward. In general, bet sizing is an incredibly complex topic, but all you have to know is to size your bet between 1/2 and the full size of the pot. The 80/20 principle really, really applies here.

Health

Recently my girlfriend and I have been waking up with scratchy throats. Intuitively we thought it might be because it's getting colder out. Especially as we sleep. So we tried sleeping with the heat on higher.

Turns out that was the exact wrong thing to do. I gave it a google and the issue seems to be that using the heat dries out the air, and dry air causes the sore throat symptoms we were experiencing.

Shopping

I bought a humidifier last night. I could have just surfed around on Amazon a bit and picked something out. Instead, I gave it a google first.

It worked out well, I learned some really interesting things. A humidifier is something that seems simple where it doesn't really matter which one you choose. Turns out that intuition was also wrong.

  • It's something that you'll probably need to refill once a day, so you want it to be easy to refill. That means purchasing one that has a flat edge so you can sit it down on the counter while you refill it. My previous one was spherical so I couldn't sit it down like that. I had to hold it in one hand while I used the other hand to pour water into it. Such awkwardness adds up in the long run.
  • Same story with ease of cleaning. With my previous one, the spout was small enough where I couldn't really reach inside to clean it and it had weird nooks and crannies that were hard/impossible to clean.
  • One type of humidifier is called an evaporative humidifer. The main advantage is that it won't overhumidify your area. Once the humidity hits ~50% or so, it'll naturally stop producing as much humidity. The downside is that it is loud, has more moving parts, and requires you to purchase parts for it as a recurring expense.

After learning all of this stuff on The Wirecutter's humidifier guide, I was able to pick the right humidifier for my needs instead of just finding the cheapest one on Amazon with decent reviews, which probably would have led to a good amount of future frustration.

Tennis

My girlfriend and I started playing tennis. We had played three times and made a little bit of progress, but still weren't very good.

Before our fourth time, I decided to give it a google. I came across this YouTube video: Beginner Tennis Lesson | Forehand, Backhand & Serve. It was great! It's amazing how some of those simple tips were so helpful. Without them we would have been doing much more floundering around.

Beginner Tennis Lesson | Forehand, Backhand & Serve

Restaurants

I find that there is a pretty high amount of variance in restaurant quality at a given price range. Most are pretty meh and leave me questioning whether it was worth spending my money there. But some are incredible and leave me very happy to have spent my money there! Especially the hole-in-the-wall type places. I really enjoy seeking those places out and channeling my inner Anthony Bourdain.

Review sits such as Yelp and Google Reviews are far from perfect. Blogs and Eater are somewhat of an improvement, but also not perfect. Still, spending ten minutes skimming through such resources will definitely move the needle and seems like a great use of time.

Dishwasher

My dishwasher hasn't been working very well. I gave it a google and came across ol'reliable Wirecutter's position on the topic. I learned some very useful things that surprised me:

  • Cheap dishwashers still do a great job at cleaning. The thing that makes expensive ones better isn't that they do a better job at cleaning. This went directly against my initial impression that the old dishwasher in my not-renovated apartment was the problem.
  • If you pre-wash your dishes too much, it could cause problems. The water in your dishwasher that accumulates has crud and stuff from your dishes in it. The dishwasher measures this concentration. If it is low enough, it assumes your dishes must be clean and stops. This too went directly against what I previously thought. I had been trying to do more and more pre-washing to fix the issue.
  • Dishwashers need to be cleaned! With all of that hot water and soap in there, who would have thought!
  • As a bonus, it's significantly more energy efficient to use a dishwasher than to hand wash. I previously always tried to hand wash stuff and fill up the dishwasher pretty full so I don't have to run as many loads.

Cooking

I made black bean burgers last night. Before doing so I hit up my trusty resource: Serious Eats. They have a great article on black bean burgers that really improved the quality of my cooking. Here are the important things I learned:

  • Baking/roasting your beans makes them more meaty and less mushy/starchy.
  • Some cooked grain or nut like cashews give it a nice textural variation on the inside like you'd find in a normal beef burger.
  • It's also nice to get some pockets of fat on the inside of the burger, and cheese works great for this. But you need a firmer, fresher cheese like feta. A gooey would just melt and be more uniform.
  • Unlike beef burgers, you have to use moderate heat. Otherwise the outside will burn and the inside won't cook all the way through.

I'm not sure how much this example really meshes with my main point of "give it a google". If I just "gave it a google", I'd probably come across some more standard recipe that wouldn't mention these things. I also cross-referenced with Budget Bytes and sure enough they didn't mention these things. Here this only worked because I was previously familiar with Serious Eats and knew to look there. So it'd probably be more accurate to say "give reliable resources you know a quick check" than "give it a google".

Covid

Another example of "give reliable resources you know a quick check" is with the microCOVID Project. They'll tell you roughly how much risk eg. going shopping is compared to an outdoor hangout with friends.

My girlfriend had some family business to take care of at her parents yesterday, but it would involve being indoors with them for a few hours during the peak of the pandemic. So we consulted the site, determined that it would cost about 400 microCOVIDs, and decided that it would be an acceptable risk.

Bike rides in nature

I recently discovered the River Mountains Loop bike trail. It looks so cool! I want to give it a try!

I was looking around on that TrailLink website and saw that there are "big horn sheep" along the trail.

"Big horn sheep"? WTF are those?

Googles it.

Oh! You mean rams!

Ram

Well, are those safe? Turns out the answer is that you shouldn't get close to them or carry food around them, but they're not nearly a big enough danger to get in the way of a bike ride.

Good news. But what about other dangers? I spent a little bit of time (ok fine, a full two day rabbit hole) skimming around The Great Outdoors Stack Exchange and it seems perfectly safe if you're not stupid.

Ok. But what about hills? I've done ~25 mile rides before and felt ok afterwards so you'd think 36 would be alright, especially if I take a rest. But maybe this route is a lot more hilly and I wouldn't be able to finish the ride. I googled it, ended up on YouTube and watched a few videos, discovered that there are in fact some significant hills and that I'd try doing part of the route first before attempting the whole route.

Airbnb

I'm planning on buying a house. One of the things I'm looking for is the ability to Airbnb the house and spend time traveling. Particularly if I buy the house in Vegas where the summers are crazy hot and I'd like to get away. How easy is this to do? How big is the risk that it just fails and doesn't generate any revenue?

I spent some time googling around for answers to these questions. And this time, I didn't find them!

I think that this is a key point. It's ok that I didn't find the answers.

I've listed nine examples in this article. This one is the tenth, so I'm batting 0.900. I think that's probably in the ballpark of my true success rate with "give it a google". Given these odds, "give it a google" is still highly worthwhile, even though you risk leaving empty handed at times. You gotta risk it to get the biscuit!

Conclusion

Perhaps you can tell, I'm a little bit passionate about this "give it a google" idea. The return on investment is just so huge. A few minutes can teach you so much and help you avoid so many headaches.

I remember the first time I learned about Google. I was at my grandparents house. My grandpa has always been a curious person who likes to learn. Whenever I go there he likes to sit down and teach me things, which I thoroughly enjoy.

Normally he has a mild excitement to him when he explains things to me. This time though, there was a noticeably higher amount of excitement to him.

He taught me about this web search thing he read about in the newspaper. You don't have to know the website you want in advance. If you know the question you want answered, you can enter it in and Google will show you the websites you should visit to find the answer!

That's amazing!

Try taking a time machine back a few dozen years, find someone at the library searching for something, and tell them you have a machine that will show them exactly where to search. Avoids a lot of frustration, right?

Now try telling them that the entire library fits inside of this little machine. And that the machine fits inside their pocket! Madness! But this is the reality that we live in.

I don't think we take enough advantage of it though. Given how quick and convenient it is to research certain topics, I think "give it a google" is a major low hanging fruit that society should spend a lot more time plucking.

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Note that even in the failure case (success rate of AirBNB hosts in Las Vegas), you still learned something - that it's not a simple enough question for easy answers.  

SEO has gotten to the point that it actually takes some skill to google things usefully.  This is the only reason I can think that your main point (you'll learn something valuable in a very short time on almost any topic, so use this technique early and often) would not apply to most of us.

Note that even in the failure case (success rate of AirBNB hosts in Las Vegas), you still learned something - that it's not a simple enough question for easy answers.

True! A noteworthy consolation prize.

SEO has gotten to the point that it actually takes some skill to google things usefully. This is the only reason I can think that your main point (you'll learn something valuable in a very short time on almost any topic, so use this technique early and often) would not apply to most of us.

Yeah, that does sound plausible and it hadn't occurred to me. Makes me think back to The Distribution of Users’ Computer Skills: Worse Than You Think.

SEO has gotten to the point that it actually takes some skill to google things usefully.

Interesting. I thought it was because Google progressively dumbed down their search and optimized it for finding things that most people wanted to find, but not what I wanted to find. But I suppose there's no reason it can't be both causes.

it's not a simple enough question for easy answers. 

It's also plausible to me that it requires enough intersections (owns a house; rents the house out on AirBnB; in a single metro area; measures success in a reasonable way; writes about it on the internet) gets small enough that there are no results.

Looking for general advice (how to succeed as an AirBNB host) might give a model that's easy to fill in, like "you will succeed if the location is X appealing and there are f(X) listings or fewer."

That still seems like a pretty easy answer to me, but it could only be found with slightly better Google Fu.

I think that leads to a need for heuristics on how hard to try rephrasing things or when to give up quickly rather than getting sucked down a two day wiki walk rabbit hole.

SEO has gotten to the point that it actually takes some skill to google things usefully.

So true and breaks my heart. I can feel the increased Googling difficulty, in my bones, over the last 18 months or so.  Tragedy of the commons strikes again.

When the Internet was young, I would go straight to cnet.com for device reviews. When Google got good, I would go to Google.  Now, I go straight to cnet.com for device reviews.

Interesting to hear. I've always had a vague sense that search results aren't that great in general but haven't noticed a change over time. Could easily just be me though.

It could be me, too. I used to have to think about SEO when I was in charge of a previous employer's minimal online marketing/blogging, so plenty of this sensation could be confirmation bias (tendency to blame bad Google results on SEO rather than Google, whose product it is). But I think I can spot a page that was generated primarily through SEO--probably with a better accuracy rate than me differentiating between GPT-3 and Wittgenstein.

It's worth noting that Google isn't the only search engine around. There are times when Google seems to have editoral decisions to show certain results and Yandex as an independent search engine gives you better results. 

Have a theory about why people can be reluctant to google. It may be excessively bitter.

To a large extent (especially for neurotypical people, though it seems to depend on the subject) learning is an unconscious process. The result is that people don't know how they learned and don't know how to teach. 

What's more, people are apt to want to just get things done and also apt to have punishment as an easy strategy. So they shame people for not knowing what they are supposed to have picked up somehow.

This means that googling indicates that you didn't know something already, so googling means getting past an emotional barrier.

That's certainly not the only thing that's going on. I think asking questions as socializing is a thing, and so is not realizing the amazing scope of what can be searched for. And for some of us, just being old enough that the habit of googling didn't get developed. 

I'm a frequent and pretty habitual googler, and I've mostly stopped calling it "living in the future".

Meta: Upvoted to counteract downvotes.

1) This strikes me as an honest attempt at world modeling. 2) I don't share the viewpoint but I think it meets the bar of being plausibly true. 3) Given the intended content, I don't think it was written in an excessively bitter tone at all.

Using the criteria of "I want to see more/less of this" that the FAQ recommends for voting, I want to see more comments like this. I worry that currently, people are fearful about coming across as too bitter and it gets in the way of honest attempts at world modeling.

Hello to all my housemates reading this, 30% of the time when you ask me a question this is the answer :P

I remember the first time I realised the full potential of web searching. In the late 1990s I met a guy on a course who was a specialist consultant on software testing. A few months later we realised this would be useful for my company, but all I knew was the guy’s name. We racked our brains as to how to contact him - if I’d known where he lived we would have gone to the library and looked him up in the relevant city’s phone book!

Then someone had the bright idea to try typing his name into a search engine (probably Alta Vista back then.) Lo and behold, up came some rudimentary web page he’d created for himself, including his email address. We sent an email to it, and within hours got a reply saying he was in Texas at the moment (we were in London) but would be back in the UK soon and would get in touch.

This was miraculous. We could now track down and communicate with someone anywhere in the world, given only their name.

Wow, that's a great story.

An addendum to this, perhaps as a next level, is to give it a non-google search.

  • DuckDuckGo helps me avoid the SEO-driven spammy results more easily than with Google, which is particularly apparent when searching about products, or terms that could be construed as product-related. My hypothesis is that the SEOptimizers have learnt the specifics of what Google's algorithm looks for and so have refined techniques to get their less-deserving clients rise to the top, and (thankfully) those techniques don't work with whatever alternate algorithms DDG uses. (To be clear, it's not a strict "DDG is always better than Google" thing, rather that they're surprisingly good at complementing each other, one being good when the other gives weak results.)

  • Million short is useful when I'm searching for something that's had a lot of media attention, but I want to avoid the mainstream media pieces on it. It excludes the top 100/1000/.../million websites on the Internet (as ranked by Alexa) from its results, which is sometimes exactly what you want.

For the sake of completion, some other alternate search engines are Metager , Qwant , and Mojeek (all of which claim privacy as their primary benefit). And I love me a bit of wiby when I'm feeling nostalgic about the old, simpler, 90s Internet of plain personal pages, and want to experience some of that again.

I am delighted to learn about million short

I'm frequently surprised that my parents will spend effort on something or ask another person for help without Googling; both are well-educated and comfortable using the internet, but it just isn't their first instinct like it is with me. Perhaps there's a correlation with age, where older people weren't trained to use Google as a first-line troubleshooting device. 

I've had similar experiences with my parents and some of my colleagues. Often people will ask me how to do something related to work that can usually be solved with a quick google. When I discussed with my partner about this, she said she could think of a few reasons why it maybe better to ask people around you first.

1. Since people around you are in the same environment as you, you can usually get a lot more specific advice.

2. It's possible that they are asking you questions because they enjoy interacting with you and want to use it as an opportunity to learn something and interact with you at the same time.

Another datapoint: After googling "How to stop biting my nails", reading a few of the results and trying out one of the instructions, I stopped biting my nails.

Related to dishwashers, something I learned about recently is that having detergrent in the pre-wash step makes a big difference, but a lot of people don't know this because of the detergent packs (which don't fit in the prewash compartment). My dishwasher doesn't even have a prewash compartment, but it does work better if I throw another tablet in the bottom of the tub (although it would be more efficient to get powdered detergent).

https://youtu.be/_rBO8neWw04

Now try telling them that the entire library fits inside of this little machine. And that the machine fits inside their pocket! Madness!

Madness indeed!

In general, bet sizing is an incredibly complex topic, but all you have to know is to size your bet between 1/2 and the full size of the pot.

This isn't correct. There are frequently occurring situations in NLHE where betting much less than half the pot or much greater than the full pot is the correct move. This is true both by theoretically-optimal strategy[1] and by practically-optimal strategy[2]. 

This can be used as a data-point when considering the epistemic status of things learned while doing a "quick Google". 

[1] i.e. the Nash equilibrium strategy

[2] i.e. the strategy that makes the most money against real, human opponents

Yes, but I think "bet half to full pot" is the 80/20 answer, and the point of "give it a google" is often to get that 80/20 answer.

I assume you mean by "80/20 answer" that betting between half and full pot will be the correct sizing approximately 80% of the time one bets. I think the actual percentage is significantly lower than 80%. 

Maybe, but "incorrect" is a spectrum. Sometimes it's a close second. Especially for someone who is googling for "basics of poker strategy".

 I think a quick web-search is useful. Having read something is an improvement over having no knowledge, and it's ridiculous that people don't do a quick web-search more often. I'm not disagreeing with your point that Googling is better than doing nothing to learn at all. 

My first comment just pointed out that what you learn may be quite inaccurate or out-of-date. 

Now, I'll go further and suggest that what you learn may be purposefully misleading. When it comes to politically or financially sensitive topics (and a searcher won't always realise when a topic is such) those supplying the information you access may be influenced by (or be one and the same as) those with an interest in you receiving incorrect information. 

To continue the poker example, a good poker player is unlikely to give away information for free. Therefore the information you read after a quick google is unlikely to be particularly good (there are exceptions: some players will give out some minimal information in the hope that readers will then pay money for more information). 

For a variety of reasons, there is plenty of fine information about poker strategy on the internet, and plenty of the most basic stuff (which is, after all, what the web-search we are discussing is about) is free. For other topics, we won't have so much luck. 

When searching the web, sometimes we leave empty handed, sometimes we leave worse than we started. 

But mostly we learn something. I'm not disagreeing with the point of your post, just adding my own thoughts. 

Great article. I think there's a lot of day-to-day things that we just bumble through in our lives, applying the algorithm of "deal with it the way I dealt with it the very first time I thought about it". But a 2-minute Google crawl can improve your algorithm immensely. 3 examples that I Googled after reading this article:

  • Can you eat the leaves on a strawberry? I'd habitually plucked and thrown them away my whole life, but Google says that I can just eat the whole berry!
  • Should you pop a zit? I'd always done so assuming it would speed up getting over the zit, but Google says letting it heal naturally is overall faster
  • What's the correct way of wiping poop? I'd barely ever thought about this daily behavior, doing probably the same motion I've done since I was a kid ("fold 3 sheets, wipe once, throw away"), but Google suggests installing a bidet; and failing that, adding a bit of the water to the sheets.