Clearly, Google doesn’t always produce the results we’d like. So, is Google in decline or are people comparing Google 2011 to a mythical Golden Age of Google that never existed? I don’t know. But FACT neither do the people who are making those claims.
Here’s the basis for the aforementioned authors‘ claim of decline:
Atwood’s primary claim is that Google started ranking pages that copy others’ content. To show how bad this is, he writes “when was the last time you clicked through to a page that was nothing more than a legally copied, properly attributed Wikipedia entry encrusted in advertisements? Never, right?” Meanwhile, Patrick writes the opposite “The other main scamsite type is one that copies part of the relevant Wikipedia entry and throws lots of Ads at you.”
Atwood is way off in citing this as an example of Google’s decline. A few years ago there were many sites that copied Wikipedia content and sometimes outranked it. Google cleaned that up. In fact, we (Answers.com) incorporate Wikipedia entries in our reference source (legally, with full attribution, to serve our users, and as part of a long-standing and mutually beneficial relationship with Wikipedia in which we support their activities).
Since 2007 we’ve put a NoIndex on our pages that only have Wikipedia content, because in 2007 Google greatly reduced the amount of traffic it sends to sites that index pages that are just copies of Wikipedia. As for content scrapers outranking the content source, that’s been a big problem for us (and I presume others) for years. Atwood is noticing it now because now it’s happening to him.
Google (like Jeff Atwood and probably those other authors) is a significant intelligence and talent trying to make sense of a complex and confusing world. They get it right far more than others do, but they’re often wrong. Are they getting it wrong more often than they used to? I don’t know. But as AFAICT, neither do any of the people who wrote these articles.