November 1998. The domain google.stanford.edu displayed a search engine with letters that seemed to be made of colored balloons. The Sergey Brin and Larry Page search engine began its steps, and it did so with a curious button in its lower right: ‘I’m gonna get lucky‘ (‘I’m feeling lucky’).
That button has been with us for the last 25 years, but since its original conception a lot has changed in a search engine that has in fact made the ‘I’m feeling lucky’ end up being irrelevant. Very few people use it and in fact Google loses money with itso why do they keep using it?
A button from when Google was cool
The original idea of the ‘I’m feeling lucky’ button was as nice as the whole image that Google projects conveyed to us. It was a time of betas that didn’t seem like betas because of how good they were. Of free services that seemed like an April Fool’s joke like gmail.
Google did everything right. there was only love. The hate would come later. And between your ideas good rollists there was that button that was intended to take us to the first search result without going through the results page.
That button had a halo of hope that everything could go well. Even the searches of an engine that at that time was beginning to take its steps and did so without second. Without (barely) advertising. One was quite confident that what Google showed it was the best the internet could show ussomething that is now not at all clear.
That button soon ended up staying in a curious background. Marissa Mayer declared in 2007 that only 1% of searches ended up going through that button, and internal analysis revealed also then that the ‘I’m feeling lucky’ button cost the company more than $100 million a year: logical, when using it they did not show the results page and the advertising associated with that page.
Why then keep it? Some people holds that the feature remains a relic of times gone by, especially after the introduction of ‘Instant Search’ —later abandoned— and the Knowledge Graph. You know: the option that has turned Google into the oracle that makes it seem that we don’t need (much) those who really give the answers to our questions. No need to leave Google anymore.
In fact, the ‘I’m feeling lucky’ button can seem even threatening. “Am I really going to trust a random result chosen by Google?” The thing certainly takes on interesting tints when the undersigned has just put the question “Where do we come from?” in the browser. What has the ‘I’m feeling lucky’ button answered me? That I go to Amazon and buy a sex education book for adults and children with the same title. Argh.
The button is now considered with other connotations. It is as if Google wanted to keep cool, when the button is the ultimate expression of the manipulation of the results. Considering how much Google controls search, thinking about this button keeping its original innocence seems difficult.
A team of researchers from Queens University in Canada went further. In 2008 published a study entitled ‘I’m Feeling Lucky Syndrome‘, and in it they explained how this syndrome was defined by the belief that a search could have an answer on a single website. As if Google wanted to give us that feeling that we are under control.
We are not.
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The “I’m feeling lucky” button is still alive. And Google has a good reason not to sacrifice it