Google is bringing back classic search, with no AI – and I couldn’t be happier about that

Google is bringing back classic search, with no AI – and I couldn’t be happier about that

Editor’s note: TechRadar makes some of its revenue via the use of affiliate links to products and services on retailer sites on certain pages, for which we can receive compensation if you click on those links or make purchases through them. Many readers of those pages reach us through Google search, so we therefore have a vested interest in the topics discussed within this article.   

Google Search has undergone many, many changes over the years – some big, some small, but every single one shifting the iconic internet search engine further and further away from its original form.

You can see an interactive timeline of Google Search on Google’s own website, if you’re curious about how it’s evolved over the years. Some of these additions – such as the ‘Did you mean…?’ suggestions for typos and the inclusion of new search modes including image, news, and video – were obvious slam-dunks for Google, improving the versatility and functionality of its search engine. Others, like the inevitable arrival of sponsored ads in results and the recent AI-powered ‘Search Generative Experience’ (SGE), have been… less popular.

Well, Google has seemingly done the unimaginable: it’s released a new ‘web’ setting for the search engine that will take you back to the glory days of Google Search in the year 2000, surfacing only a list of text-based links. That’s right – no images, no shopping results, and no AI-generated answers.

A more perfect search engine

The ‘web’ mode has been rolled out globally and should be accessible for everyone now; you’ll find it under the ‘More’ option at the top of the results, below the search bar itself. 

Unsurprisingly, it’s been met with riotous applause on social media. Commenters on Twitter (cough, X) lauded Google for the change, with many remarking that this is exactly what they want from a search engine.

It’s a little sad that Google’s decision to turn back time on its most-used product has seen such a positive response, and it’s no doubt been done to counter any potential backlash from the gradual rollout of SGE. The AI-powered search tool will use machine learning to ‘scrape’ the internet for relevant data and provide an AI-generated response, which may prove helpful to some users but which poses a significant threat to online media and information outlets.

It’s worth noting that the web search view does still include sponsored text links, but I suppose we can’t have it all. Personally, I’m massively happy to see this change – not only do I prefer to do my own reading rather than receive AI-generated slop from my online searches, but as a digital journalist, I have a vested interest in Google keeping search simple.

The perils of AI in search

See, Google’s SGE experiment is one I fear may be doomed to fail – specifically because it might end up consuming itself. SGE is undeniably a powerful tool that can provide a neat summary of the information users are looking for, but it needs content written by humans to do that.

An example Google gave back when SGE was first unveiled was the query ‘best Bluetooth speaker for a pool party’. Sure enough, SGE produced a list of suggested products with links to both retailers and sites reviewing the recommended speakers.

Now, we naturally have our own article ranking the best Bluetooth speakers, as do many other tech news sites. We have literally hundreds of buying guides, and keeping those up-to-date with useful information for consumers is a lot of work, but it’s work we’re happy to do, since it pays our bills and ultimately helps consumers find what they actually need to know – you know, the whole reason TechRadar exists as a site.

Google’s SGE promises to make answering questions easier – but perhaps at the cost of its own quality over time. (Image credit: Google)

But if SGE takes over, all the affiliate and ad revenue made by us – and every other site making product recommendations out there – threatens to evaporate. 

If that happens, we’ll pivot: the journalism industry has always been on the cutting edge, ready and able to adapt to the challenges of a constantly shifting media landscape. So yes, we’ll find a new way to reach our readers, whether directly, via newsletters, social media, subscriptions or whatever other methods appear in the forthcoming years. 

However, if surfacing all those buying guides, recipes, and top-10 lists within Google search becomes pointless to the sites making them, many may choose to stop Google’s bot from crawling them, or at the very least from using them to train its LLMs. And if that happens then Google’s AI will steadily become less and less relevant and helpful in its SGE suggestions as its fuel source dries up.

I know this sounds like whining. ‘Oh no, Google is going to kill our profitability!’ But that doesn’t mean it’s not a problem. Google has potentially created a new version of online searches that will self-destruct if it becomes successful.

In other words, I’m delighted to see ‘web search’ make a heroic return in this time of AI uncertainty. After all, I’m not going to start using Bing

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