Generic Searching On Non-Generic Search Engines

Recently at work we whiled away a coffee break discussing the controversy over writing famous people’s obituaries in advance. While we were having the discussion Anna Nicole Smith came up. Not her name; nobody could remember her name. We were totally stumped. We knew she had passed away shortly after her son, but that’s all we could remember.

Eventually someone went to Google and typed:

that woman who died after her son died

… and Anna Nicole Smith in a CNN story was the second result, and had her Wikipedia page on the first page of results.

I was rather surprised. After all, I do a lot of talking about how people should get as specific as possible. And while the query above presents a couple of facts, it was very generic.

A few days later we were discussing the NFL combine. (I promise, we do get more interesting in our discussions. We had a very spirited argument on whether hosting the Olympics would bring “real capitalism” to China. But nothing funny happened.) I knew there was some kind of intelligence test that NFL players have to take, but I couldn’t remember what it was called. So I told Google:

that test NFL players have to take

… and it pointed me, in the first result, to the Wonderlic test, which is what I was trying to remember.

I thought about it for a while and then went back to Google. “You’re fine at telling me what I can barely remember,” I said to it, “But how are you at naming what I don’t even know?” And with that I busted out a whole bunch of basic-level people searches, wondering which person Google would first place in each of my generic geists.

That man who went to France — Major Clarence Fahnestock
That lady on TV — Mary Birdsong
That group which couldn’t wait — The NPD Group
That guy who quotes Shakespeare — Julian Harris
That guy who played football — Guy Chamberlin
The lady who counted sheep — The Lady of the Lake, OR Elbert Hubbard. Your call.

Of course, you can get too meta for Google. I tried that guy who did this thing this one time and got MySpace Videos by, you guessed it, “The Guy Who Did That Thing That One Time”.

I think I will stick to very specific searching. On the other hand, this is a fun way to get completely 8-ball on Google and see what it identifies with a generic phrase.

Hey! Check Amazon for books on Search Engines.

About Tara Calishain

Covering the world of search engines, databases, and other online information collections since 1996.

Posted on February 25, 2008, in News. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off.

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