Is Google dying?

In February, an engineer named Dmitri Brereton wrote a blog post about Google’s search-engine decay, rounding up leading theories for why the product’s “results have gone to shit.” The post quickly shot to the top of tech forums such as Hacker News and was widely shared on Twitter and even prompted a PR response from Google’s Search liaison, Danny Sullivan, refuting one of Brereton’s claims. “You said in the post that quotes don’t give exact matches. They really do. Honest,” Sullivan wrote in a series of tweets.

Brereton’s most intriguing argument for the demise of Google Search was that savvy users of the platform no longer type instinctive keywords into the search bar and hit “Enter.” The best Googlers—the ones looking for actionable or niche information, product reviews, and interesting discussions—know a cheat code to bypass the sea of corporate search results clogging the top third of the screen. “Most of the web has become too inauthentic to trust,” Brereton argued, therefore “we resort to using Google, and appending the word ‘reddit’ to the end of our queries.” Brereton cited Google Trends data that show that people are searching the word reddit on Google more than ever before.

Instead of scrolling through long posts littered with pop-up ads and paragraphs of barely coherent SEO chum to get to a review or a recipe, clever searchers got lively threads with testimonials from real people debating and interacting with one another. Most who use the Reddit hack are doing so for practical reasons, but it’s also a small act of protest—a way to stick it to the Search Engine Optimization and Online Ad Industrial Complex and to attempt to access a part of the internet that feels freer and more human.