Don’t be evil

18 10 2010

Google launched its instant search functionality a couple of months ago, causing the predictable flurry of hype and type. The search engine behemoths claim that this new feature can search faster than you can type, thus “Google’s just saved nearly 350 million man hours.”

In addition to saving these vital seconds you might otherwise have wasted by pausing for breath, Google also saves you the trouble of deciding what you wanted to search for in the first place, with its new “mind-reading” algorithm. I tried testing this with a few choice phrases and here are the results…

“Is it OK to” suggests that Google thinks I am worried about getting pregnant, going to Greece, getting food poisoning or what to wear at a wedding. None of these are correct, although if all 4 scenarios were to present themselves at the same time I’d have a lot more to ask Google about.

“Should I worry about” brings up a few more interesting results. “…a mole” and “…nuclear power” were the top 2 results but, somewhat alarmingly, “Should I worry about Richard Hammond” was the third suggested query! I have never previously worried much about the Top Gear presenter, but I’ve found him preying on my mind since this experiment.

Let’s move on from information anxiety and try something a bit more philosophical. “I think” concludes with “…therefore I am” as the top result, but the top ten also included “…we’re alone now”, “…I’m pregnant” and “I love my wife.”  Hmm.

To maximise vagueness, I tried typing in “Is” only to find Google alarmingly behind the times and concerned over the mortality of fictional soap characters. “Is Denise dead?”, “Is Denise Dead in Eastenders?” and “Is Denise really dead?” all popped up, alongside “Is it Thursday?” and “Is Lady Gaga a man?”

I’m not sure how any of these auto-completed searches are supposed to save me any time. More importantly, this process works against the user’s mind model of a website should operate and as such appears to be designed more as a money-spinner for Google (think of how much Orange would be prepared to jump above O2 in the auto-complete hierarchy for their initial letters) than as a genuine attempt to improve the user search experience.

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