Shareware Beach

Thursday, 16 December 2004

Google Suggest: Too Suggestive or Not Suggestive Enough?

Filed under: Cyberspace,Shareware Industry — Jan @ 21:37

Google Suggest is a new feature of the popular search engine that’s currently in beta. I have mixed feelings about it.

So far it does not strike me as particularly helpful in quickly finding the information I want. If I type “beethoven”, I get 10 suggestions including “beethoven opus 20″ (107K results), “beethovens opus 20″ (11K results) and “beethoven.com” (1 result). That’s two redundant suggestions, and one useless suggestion. But it doesn’t suggest “beethoven symphony”. If I type “beethoven sym” it suggests “beethoven symphonies” (328K results), “beethoven symphony” (1,120K results) and then 8 times “beethoven symphony” followed by a number. Might be useful to quickly compare the popularity of certain keywords on the web (on web pages, not in search queries!), but doesn’t help me to search faster. It’s not really useful as a type assist tool, since it updates too slow.

The suggestions have been filtered, though. If I type “sex”, I get no suggestions at all. Same deal with “safe sex”. “Drugs”, “murder” and “massacre” yield plenty of results. Twisted morality police at work? At least “Hitler”, “Holocaust” and “nazi” return plenty of suggestions. Even “Mein Kampf” is in the list, which isn’t even English. (Note: Holocaust-related subjects are very sensitive in many countries, even more so than sex-related subjects.) Guess which of all these keywords has the most results when actually performing the search?

But where Google gets really suggestive is when I type in the name of one of my products. E.g. “HelpScribble” shows me “helpscribble”, “helpscribble download” and “helpscribble crack”, the latter two with various version numbers. Same story with all my other products, and many Surely people are typing these keywords into Google, and Google is finding pages containing those keywords. But should Google suggest people to look for cracks when they are innocently typing in the name of a product? I know from my web logs that many people do arrive at my web site by typing a product name into Google rather than typing the product domain name (e.g. helpscribble.com) into the address bar. I also know that I frequently do this myself. Google usually gives the proper site as the first result, which may not always be productname.com.

Google has already shown the ability and willingness to filter the suggestions. Surely, some people would be offended if Google made suggestions about safe sex. But as far as I know, safe sex is still fully legal in California, where Google is based. But software piracy is not. Yet Google hides safe sex, but offers to search for pirated software for almost any product name (mine or other people”s) that I can think of. I know I don’t like it. More people looking for cracks is the last thing the software industry needs. I wonder what Google’s legal department has to say about this. They can’t claim to be mechanically aggregating what’s already out there, since they’re not.

Let’s see whether an email message with “sex” in it to Google’s feedback address will get past their spam filters.

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