Let’s have fun with the Google search box.


The Google search box has become the new oracle at Delphi, the thing we look to before all big companies. How do I know this?

Via Google Suggest, of course. For the full version of Suggest, read my colleague Josh Levin in Slate. For those who don’t know how Suggest works, it sums it up nicely:

Google doesn’t reveal its search algorithms, but company engineers confirm that what we’re looking at in [Google Suggest] is, in essence, a list of the most popular queries that start with a given prefix. (It is not known when the suggestions are selected, but a spokesperson says they are generated from “recent [search] activity. Suggestion-activated search is like an instant popularity contest. Just type in a few letters and you have access to tons of data on what your fellow Internet users are looking for.

Note: Google Suggest is a useful feature. It’s a little bit of the collective spirit. It’s also a lot of fun to play with.

The Internet is full of excellent examples of misfire served by Google. Here is a favorite: “i am extremely terrified of chinese people. “But I was very impressed with it little anonymous genius unearthed by Digg, which uses Google for a sociolinguistic chairside analysis. The graph compares “less intelligent” queries with “smarter” queries, such as “comment 2” with “how could we:”


You can spend whole afternoons duplicating this experience:

Compared to:

Grammar also seems to make the difference:


Maybe “less intelligent” versus “smarter” isn’t the nicest or most accurate way to categorize these queries. Some of the “smarter” requests are clearly from high school kids desperately trying to do their homework. And some of the “less intelligent” queries are undoubtedly very intelligent people having fun with Google in a moment of inactivity. But let’s not let nuance get in the way of competition. Send me your best ‘less smart’ vs. ‘smarter’ query example to [email protected] The winner will receive my eternal gratitude and anything Slate item in their size that I can find lying around in the office. (More umbrellas, sorry.) I’ll announce the winner next week.

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