Posted tagged ‘search engines’

Still haven’t found what you’re looking for?

November 4, 2010

As long term readers (bless you!) of this blog know, every so often I take a look at what search terms people have used to find the blog. My main purpose in doing this is to see what kind of audience I am reaching and what’s on their minds. But often I find myself rather bemused at what gets people here.

So for example, over the complete lifetime of this blog 202 people found it by searching for ‘curvy women’ (and longer term readers will know why). I rather doubt that those who came here via that route went away satisfied. More weirdly, 79 people found this blog by searching for ‘my hopes’, which apart from anything else is a rather weird search term: what were these searchers expecting to find that would help them?

And here are some other recent search terms that led to here:

bibdesk (I don’t even know what that is)
what’s with sophocles and oedipus? (good that I am getting the classics…)
jail for politicians
what is effective and continuous? (well, what is?)
there is no reason (sounds strange I know, but can anyone guess how that got the seeker to this blog?)
removing nervous lecturers
the vamp of inchicore (eh?)
what am I paying for?
where do all these young people go?

Where indeed!


September 4, 2010

Exactly 12 years ago today, the company Google was formed by two Stanford University students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. A dozen years on, and their little enterprise is everywhere, having entered the language and provided people the world over with indispensable search tools – a kind of map for modern life that we all need in order to get where we are going. In the late 1990s there were several respected search engines (remember Infoseek or Altavista, anyone?), but within a very short space of time they had all pretty much disappeared.

And of course, a company as large as Google, and with so little apparent competition, must also be looked at closely to see what it is doing. Since you and I use Google entirely free of charge, you might wonder what creates all that shareholder value. And once you start looking at it that way, the commercial essence of Google is not based on providing searches, but rather being an advertising agency. All over every Google page you look at it subtle advertising, some of it based on the electronic analysis of what you are searching and what you are writing. And Google is also engaged in a competition with Apple, as its Android operating system for mobile devices goes head-to-head with the iPhone.

Google has an academic background, and from an academic perspective it has become a vital tool: its search function, Google Scholar, the digitisation of books – all of this has placed Google at the heart of the academic experience.

Alongside the useful, even vital, functionality Google has, its size is on the other hand vaguely scary, and its near monopoly status in searches should perhaps be a little troubling. Though I like what it offers, I also make sure that, at least every so often, I use the competitors who offer something reasonably good also: Yahoo, or Bing, for example. Keeping Google to a reasonable scale is a way of ensuring that it also stays useful.