25 September 2009

The google gestalt

I noticed something a little bit creepy while googling for something a while ago, and encountered it again today. What happens is this:

Start typing a term into google these days and it will drop down a list of auto-completed suggestions. For example, if I enter "foonyor" it thinks I just can't spell very well and makes suggestions like "funny games" and "funny jokes" etc. The key is that google considers what you've typed so far and then cross references it with what other people out there in the ether have ended up typing after beginning in the same way.

If you type in somebody's name, you'll often get a suggested keyword that reflects what other people have been trying to find about them. For instance, the top suggestion for completing "Gordon Brown" is "youtube" because of his recent bumbling attempt to engage the youth of Britain via the intertubes.

Where things become a bit creepy is when you're searching for someone less famous and you get to see what other people are trying to learn about them. Today's weird example involves my former colleague (and all-around genius) Pardis Sabeti, currently an Assistant Professor at Harvard. Here's the ten suggested completions after typing in her name:

  1. married
  2. harvard
  3. lab
  4. thousand days [ed: this is the name of her band]
  5. biography
  6. boyfriend
  7. wiki
  8. band
  9. facebook
  10. cnn
How messed up is it that "married" is number 1 (and that boyfriend is in there too)?!? If you read about her background you'll find out that Pardis is ridiculously smart and successful (and sings lead vocals in that band) but all the internet creeps want to know is whether she's available!


errhode said...

I had a job interview with her a while back and my housemate-at-the-time wanted to know the same thing... just saying. I think it's possible that he contributed to that common search.

MRhé said...

So your point is about the creepiness of men, not Google?

I tested this out on you and "jeffrey barrett cincinnati" was the top suggestion. This was one of the top links:


Good thing you don't look like that thug.

JB said...

Jeff Barrett gets Sanger as its second suggestion (and Heavenly as its first). Jenny Barnett also gets 'husband' (in 3rd place). However, since creepiness usually correlates with inability to spell I suspect it's not me they're after.