Slate.com had this article about an interesting oddity surrounding a feature of Google’s search engine, namely Google Suggest. The findings of this article runs directly counter to what our school teachers had always told us, that there is no such thing as a dumb question. While the true answer to any Google query are the websites that are found, an intermediate answer can be found with Google Suggest. Google Suggest shows a series of auto-completed suggestions, printed in bold type, that are Google’s best guess of what you intend to type next. As the article pointed out and as I have independently duplicated below, less intelligent queries get stupid suggestions while more intelligent queries, evoke more sophisticated ones. The example compared below compares the Google Suggest answers of how 2 with how might one:
The how 2 search generated suggestions about sex, drugs and weight loss. The how might one search generated suggestions about chemistry and water resources management. This begs the question of how might one water resource manager make this query?
Another whole art form in Google searching has to do with tricking the search engine into giving a funny response to an innocent query. There is a bit of cat and mouse in this endeavour, because the engineers at Google are always on guard to prevent this type of activity. That is not to say that the folks at Google don’t have a sense of humor. I give you the word recursion:
An oldie but a goodie is found by typing in french military victories. This leads to the question, did you mean french military defeats. Early tricks relied on training the search engine by repeatedly making the same query and then selecting the same website. This makes a lot of these ad hoc jokes rather ephemeral. During last year’s election season there were some rather vicious examples that have since passed.
Another genre of Google jokes leverages some of Google’s subsidiary tools, like their calculator. Normally you just type in a mathematical formula like 3 + 5 = and then get the answer eight. But try asking the question posed in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, what is the answer to life, the universe and everything?
Google is a tool that I use everyday. Sometimes it is concise and invaluable. Sometimes it is maddeningly vague. I find it interesting though, that the questions we ask can say so much about us.