Why it is so hard to find that funny video you found three hours ago

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Finding specific content on the Internet is sometimes impossible: we don’t remember where we found it, we don’t know how to find it, and algorithms want to take us in a different direction.


The average time spent by connected Internet users in 2021 is almost seven hours a day. During the part of the day that we dedicate to the network, we have a lot of problems going through our eyes.

We read, watch videos and photos, go from the web to the social network, send memes and make stickers.

We can get into this whole inner ocean in a seemingly simple way, and yet sometimes finding something specific can be a dream. Where is the video with the kitten we want to send in contact? “Progress is so rapid that technology is lagging behind the amount of information we create,” said María Rodríguez-Rabadan, executive director of the master’s degree in transmedia communication and the master’s degree in communication and data visualization at the International University of La Rioja (UNIR).


We not only consume all the time we spend connected to the network, but we also create new content: 500 hours of video are created every minute, according to statistics published by Statist. uploaded to YouTube and 695,000 stories shared on Instagram.

Finding specific content is a challenge, and going to Google is no longer the only option: maybe it’s something you’ve seen on Twitter and you want to try it on your search engine, even if you have to correct words.

On networks like Instagram or TikTok, which have a search engine that only understands hashtags and usernames, it’s useful to remember who shared the video or meme, but it doesn’t always happen.

“We’ve moved from file storage to streaming,” said Quelic Berga, a professor in the Department of Computer Science, Multimedia and Telecommunications at UOC. Even though we stopped and pointed out a problem that we should see later, organizing was not easy either.

“You can prefer it and then you see what you want, there are always labeling systems, but they are not effective,” Berga said. “It’s a challenge to decide how to do it without getting into the disproportionate paradox of spending a lifetime tagging if you don’t have the ability to organize and review it later,” he added.

With infoxification and this impractical design for organizing and sequentially checking content, Berg adds a third thing that makes searching more difficult: algorithms and their constant changes. “If you search for three unpopular keywords a day, you’ll see how the results change,” he explains. This happens even if you are looking for words about something old that should give essentially the same results (for example, “George Orwell,” as the expert suggests). “We are in a time of great noise and innovation and the return to benchmarks is complicated,” he said.

Algorithms also have their own logic and use some solutions above others. “For example, when viewing [an app like Instagram], there’s a priority factor for things that are recent.

If you’re looking for cats, they set up cats that are now,” Berga explained. If the specific content you want to revisit is not currently very popular, it will probably be very difficult to find it again on the tab after a few hours.

An issue that is not new

There has also been a lot of talk in recent months about Google and the relevance of the results it offers. There are two main problems: the presence of advertising in the results and especially SEO, which is that there are a number of measures that can be used to ensure that the site appears among the first results. Therefore, starting positions are usually filled by sites that are very well designed with Google in mind, but have a problem that is actually irrelevant to users. In addition, a study published in Social Informatics in 2019 adds one factor: layers of adaptation are added to the results. According to the article, this adjustment causes the loss of up to 20% of relevant information that is not visible in the results.

“If you are looking for a ‘Madrid shoe store’, you have two options: the shoe store does not have a website or you can find them. Now there are many more options because the Yellow Guide uploads information about all shoe stores, Google” Uploading photos and videos to users shoe stores, etc., who sees first and who clicks on what. So searching is no longer easy, “said Quelic Berga. “With this breakthrough, two things happen: chaos is more complicated because there’s a lot of noise and there’s the willpower that you want to see ‘Nike Madrid’,” he explains.

However, even though it seems to us that this whole problem of finding and, above all, rediscovering specific content on the Internet is something that has never happened before, it may not happen. “It’s nothing that would make it so much harder, but even more people are aware that this problem exists,” explains Daniel Gayo, a professor of languages ​​and computer systems at the University of Oviedo. For the expert, search engines have generally improved enormously, although he agrees that it is still possible that the problem of rediscovering what has already been seen has improved. “There are two problems: the number of generated content and the platforms on which information can reach us [Twitter, Instagram, Facebook …] are different,” he emphasizes. The problem of how to return to some problems is not new. “If you look at the scientific literature, you can go back to the late 90’s,” Gayo said. If previously only a minority of the population who regularly use the Internet knew about it, it is now even more widespread. “We also have very high expectations when using these systems, especially when there are problems that seem so good, when things stop working, we lose hope,” he thinks.

Gaio, for example, refers to a study published in 2004 in which methods used by many people to gain access to or gain access to objects visible on a network. Actions such as sending an e-mail with a link, marking a website as a favorite or even printing, and other methods are used. The study also refers to previous publications that have addressed this issue and stated that this is not a problem that reflects the penetration of social networks or the mobile Internet.

More often than not, these days the way we use content. In this “flow” that Quelic Berg refers to, where instead of storing the content we consult, we can find out how we can make sure we see something again, but we don’t usually use the Internet for that purpose. “In general, they are light, fragmented, readable, and the videos we watch, pause, share, or even share with other tasks,” says Rodríguez-Rabadán. For an expert, “the way users use Internet content is not the best way to support perseverance and remember the path we follow to find that link.”

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