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Jocelyn Paine

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What Google Tells Me People Want

August 23, 2010

On the 18th of June 2010, I started learning about the human race's preoccupations. Or at least the preoccupations of that portion of it which speaks English and searches for things with Google. I was writing the ALT text for the IMG tag in my latest cartoon, and wanted to put some character into it that I didn't think I could type as a literal. So I Googled "how to embed unicode in alt text". As usual, Google suggested a list of phrases for me to complete my search term with, and I noted down those it offered for "how to". They were:

  • how to
  • kiss
  • train your dragon
  • lose weight fast
  • get pregnant
  • get a six pack
  • write a cv
  • get rid of spots
  • have sex
  • draw cartoons
  • make money

It's nice that "draw cartoons" was in there, and I find it touching that the human race is more interested in kissing than in making money — presumably only after having beautified itself by losing weight and sloshing on the spot remover.

(By the way, apologies for the bullets. The lists would have looked better without them, but the blogging software has overridden the "{list-style-type: none}" with which I styled them. It also seems to like jumping the paragraph-text size after a list, unless I've made a mistake that I can't see.)

I've just retried "how to", and get the following completions:

  • how to
  • write a cv
  • kiss
  • lose weight fast
  • make money
  • train your dragon
  • draw
  • get a six pack
  • make pancakes
It must be the recession that's pushed "write a cv" up to Number One. But the popularity of pancakes baffles me, because it's long after Shrove Tuesday. Or is this prompted, say, by a fashionable new recipe from Jamie Oliver, or some American stuff-yourself-silly-fest that I know nothing about?

Let's move from one question-word to another:

  • why
  • is the sky blue
  • is a raven like a writing desk
  • do we yawn
  • buy new
  • do we dream
  • am i always tired
  • do dogs eat grass
  • do cats purr
  • did the chicken cross the road

Number two is the famous Alice in Wonderland riddle, of course. Poignant number six suggests to me that too many people are failing to adapt to the needs and stresses of work:

  • why am i always tired
  • and have no energy
  • all the time
  • and cold
  • and hungry
  • nhs
  • and sleepy
  • and dizzy
  • in the morning
  • and thirsty

I'm listening to the weather forecast as I type. It's the usual mix of what forecasters call "sunshine and showers", which actually means "showers separated by spit, a deluge at 4pm, and not enough blue sky to patch a pair of sailor's trousers", so I've just Googled bad weather. Of its nine suggested completions, the final one is "jokes". Fair enough — if we couldn't joke about the weather, we'd go insane. But why were five of the others about bad weather in France? The French don't reciprocate, because for mauvais temps, suggests seven variations also in France. Amongst them: Nice, Côte d'Azur, Cannes, Var.

Bad weather is one problem, but evidently not the most pressing:

  • problems
  • iphone4
  • iphone
  • hotmail
  • ipad
  • facebook
  • ios4
  • iphone 4g
  • htc desire
  • itunes
It's depressing, this obsession with phones and Facebook. Does no-one tackle physical problems any more: knitting a jumper, brewing beer, baking a cake?

As for programming languages, Google's completions for java problems were all operating systems or browsers. Most of its completions for c++ problems were such things as "simple c++ problems" and "sample c++ problems", which looks like a big bias towards learning the language. The only specifically named bit of programming linguistics were two variations on "multiple inheritance". And the top two completions for html problems were "with ie" and "outlook 2007". I therefore note without comment the completions for three well-known browsers:

  • firefox
  • 4
  • addons
  • themes
  • personas
  • 4 update
  • portable
  • for mac
  • sync
  • google chrome
  • themes
  • os
  • extension
  • beta
  • mac
  • update
  • 6
  • addons
  • review
  • internet explorer
  • 8
  • 9
  • 7
  • for mac
  • 6
  • cannot display the webpage
  • has stopped working
  • problems
  • 8 free download
  • not working


Jocelyn Paine

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