Everything you hate about the Internet, in one site

The Question

Web sites don’t care if they answer your question, but they’ll trick you into thinking they do. I had a simple question. With three COVID-19 vaccines being submitted for FDA approval in the U.S., will we have any choice as to which ones we’ll be offered, assuming that two or three are approved?

The Search

In doing a web search, putting fewer words in your search usually leads to better results, so I put the words “which vaccine” to DuckDuckGo. On the second page of results, I found an article that seemed to answer exactly the question I was asking. The headline read: Covid vaccine: Can I choose which vaccine I get?

Search result

The Page

The website I went to is from The Daily Express, a UK newspaper. As I read the article in search of the information I was after, it became more and more apparent as I read that the article was just a collection of news snippets and “filler” sentences about the Coronavirus and vaccines in general. Some examples: There are vaccines under development. (I know that.) Restrictions on gatherings are in place to help people not die. (I know that.) Most people are vulnerable to infection by the virus. (I know that, too.)

And on and on and on the filler continues without touching on the stated title of the article. I read about the main contenders for a safe and effective vaccine, how the vaccine will be stored, shipped, and injected. How many doses you will need. There is a picture of generic “COVID-19 vaccine” vials. I learned that the UK has ordered mostly the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was developed in partnership with Oxford University. For good measure, there’s a picture of a cooking thermometer sticking in ice.

The page is filled with links to other Express articles, a video pop-up player showing things not at all related to my search, ads for weight loss pills, a subscription form promising daily news about the Royals,

And then, the very last sentence: “It is unlikely people will be able to pick and choose which vaccine they receive.”

The State of the Web

The Express editors guessed that they had found a topic of interest (can patients choose their vaccine) and built a web page around it. Never mind that the question doesn’t have a definitive answer. That’s not why web pages are written these days. The World-Wide Web is now all about “content,” the words, pictures, and videos that you’ve come there to see and the techniques used to bring visitors to a site. Sadly, there is little distinction between good and bad content. My example page is obviously very poor content, and I felt deceived that they had lured me with the promise of an answer to my query.

The demand is huge for content creators, and quality is not a requirement. It’s all about quantity. A quick search of “create content” in any search engine offers proof of this. As my example shows, web sites are far less about conveying information these days and far more about generating traffic for ads and click-through revenue.

Is there anything we can do about this? Glad you asked… “It is unlikely people will be able to pick and choose how web sites are written.”