Too big to care

Enshittification is a choice.

Cory Doctorow
5 min readApr 4, 2024
A demon from Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. It has a bulbous, tick-like body and the legs of a hoofed animal. Its ass is open, revealing a hollow space within, populated by other demons. A flag sprouts from its back. It has been altered so that its face is a Google ‘G’ logo and the flag bears a tiny Android logo. Its broad, flat hat is decorated the the ‘shrug’ ASCII art.

I’m on tour with my new, nationally bestselling novel The Bezzle! Catch me in Boston (Apr 11) with Randall “XKCD” Munroe, Providence (Apr 12) and beyond!

Remember the first time you used Google search? It was like magic. After years of progressively worsening search quality from Altavista and Yahoo, Google was literally stunning, a gateway to the very best things on the internet.

Today, Google has a 90% search market-share. They got it the hard way: they cheated. Google spends tens of billions of dollars on payola in order to ensure that they are the default search engine behind every search box you encounter on every device, every service and every website:

Not coincidentally, Google’s search is getting progressively, monotonically worse. It is a cesspool of botshit, spam, scams, and nonsense. Important resources that I never bothered to bookmark because I could find them with a quick Google search no longer show up in the first ten screens of results:

Even after all that payola, Google is still absurdly profitable. They have so much money, they were able to do a $80 billion stock buyback. Just a few months later, Google fired 12,000 skilled technical workers. Essentially, Google is saying that they don’t need to spend money on quality, because we’re all locked into using Google search. It’s cheaper to buy the default search box everywhere in the world than it is to make a product that is so good that even if we tried another search engine, we’d still prefer Google.

This is enshittification. Google is shifting value away from end users (searchers) and business customers (advertisers, publishers and merchants) to itself:

And here’s the thing: there are search engines out there that are so good that if you just try them, you’ll get that same feeling you got the first time you tried Google.

When I was in Tucson last month on my book-tour for my new novel The Bezzle, I crashed with my pals Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden. I’ve know them since I was a teenager (Patrick is my editor).

We were sitting in his living room on our laptops — just like old times! — and Patrick asked me if I’d tried Kagi, a new search-engine.

Teresa chimed in, extolling the advanced search features, the “lenses” that surfaced specific kinds of resources on the web.

I hadn’t even heard of Kagi, but the Nielsen Haydens are among the most effective researchers I know — both in their professional editorial lives and in their many obsessive hobbies. If it was good enough for them…

I tried it. It was magic.

No, seriously. All those things Google couldn’t find anymore? Top of the search pile. Queries that generated pages of spam in Google results? Fucking pristine on Kagi — the right answers, over and over again.

That was before I started playing with Kagi’s lenses and other bells and whistles, which elevated the search experience from “magic” to sorcerous.

The catch is that Kagi costs money — after 100 queries, they want you to cough up $10/month ($14 for a couple or $20 for a family with up to six accounts, and some kid-specific features):

I immediately bought a family plan. I’ve been using it for a month. I’ve basically stopped using Google search altogether.

Kagi just let me get a lot more done, and I assumed that they were some kind of wildly capitalized startup that was running their own crawl and and their own data-centers. But this morning, I read Jason Koebler’s 404 Media report on his own experiences using it:

Koebler’s piece contained a key detail that I’d somehow missed:

When you search on Kagi, the service makes a series of “anonymized API calls to traditional search indexes like Google, Yandex, Mojeek, and Brave,” as well as a handful of other specialized search engines, Wikimedia Commons, Flickr, etc. Kagi then combines this with its own web index and news index (for news searches) to build the results pages that you see. So, essentially, you are getting some mix of Google search results combined with results from other indexes.

In other words: Kagi is a heavily customized, anonymized front-end to Google.

The implications of this are stunning. It means that Google’s enshittified search-results are a choice. Those ad-strewn, sub-Altavista, spam-drowned search pages are a feature, not a bug. Google prefers those results to Kagi, because Google makes more money out of shit than they would out of delivering a good product:

No wonder Google spends a whole-ass Twitter every year to make sure you never try a rival search engine. Bottom line: they ran the numbers and figured out their most profitable course of action is to enshittify their flagship product and bribe their “competitors” like Apple and Samsung so that you never try another search engine and have another one of those magic moments that sent all those Jeeves-askin’ Yahooers to Google a quarter-century ago.

One of my favorite TV comedy bits is Lily Tomlin as Ernestine the AT&T operator; Tomlin would do these pitches for the Bell System and end every ad with “We don’t care. We don’t have to. We’re the phone company”:

Speaking of TV comedy: this week saw FTC chair Lina Khan appear on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. It was amazing:

The coverage of Khan’s appearance has focused on Stewart’s revelation that when he was doing a show on Apple TV, the company prohibited him from interviewing her (presumably because of her hostility to tech monopolies):

But for me, the big moment came when Khan described tech monopolists as “too big to care.”

What a phrase!

Since the subprime crisis, we’re all familiar with businesses being “too big to fail” and “too big to jail.” But “too big to care?” Oof, that got me right in the feels.

Because that’s what it feels like to use enshittified Google. That’s what it feels like to discover that Kagi — the good search engine — is mostly Google with the weights adjusted to serve users, not shareholders.

Google used to care. They cared because they were worried about competitors and regulators. They cared because their workers made them care:

Google doesn’t care anymore. They don’t have to. They’re the search company.

If you’d like an essay-formatted version of this post to read or share, here’s a link to it on, my surveillance-free, ad-free, tracker-free blog: