Monday, June 30, 2008

Google Suggestions Time Capsule - 2nd Quarter 08

A direct link to the above video is at

Happy second anniversary! My animation and website went live the end of June 2006, and vaulted to popularity a few days later on July 3rd: first as a result of digg, then due to stumbleupon, and on out through a continually widening word of mouth from one site to another throughout the world. This project has continued its popularity for two years now, still averaging 2 million hits a month at the main website. Why? I believe it's because now, more than ever, people are becoming interested in thinking about those big picture ideas of how everything fits together.

Back at the beginning of this year, I became interested in keeping track of the top Suggestions that Google makes when you type a single letter of the alphabet into the search windows incorporated into certain browsers, and how those suggestions change over time, and how much we might be able to draw from this as a record of the memes that rise and fall in our society over time. The original post is here, and although the post was created in January I have continued to update that entry on a weekly basis since then. The graphic above is my attempt to represent those results in a single visual (hopefully you've be able to read most of this and use it as a companion to the original post), and a post that talks about the poll question that was started around the same time relating to Google is here.

I've talked before (in my entry Tens, Google and the Expanding Universe) about Google's battle with spammers and scammers trying to vault their particular site to the top of Google's search results, which is part of the feedback loop that becomes Google's awesome responsibility: because once something becomes a top search result, it is more likely to stay there for a while. Three months ago in my blog entry Googling in the Tenth Dimension I listed some of the hundreds of words and phrases you can type into Google and have pages related to my project come up as the number one search result. As I said at the time, the continually changing parameters Google uses to organize its results will no doubt have made some of the search terms I provided back then to be pushed further down in the search results by now, and some other new ones will, I presume, have risen to the top.

Take a look at my diagram above. Considering how often Google shuffles their other search results, I have to admit I'm surprised at how many of the single letter search results did not change over the six months I've been tracking this information. Still, as a time capsule, this project will be a useful reference to look back upon in years to come... but it does look like some of the single letter search results - particularly those ones shown in red in the above graphic - are not going to be changing any time soon. Oh well, this just pulls us back out to that all-important big picture thinking - how many years will it take for some of the red items above to be toppled? Only time will tell.

Enjoy the journey,

Rob Bryanton
Next: What Would a Flatlander Really See?


Justin M. Kolenc said...

I see Orkut is beating Obama. Maybe Orkut should run for President. Then every decision made by the country would have to be voted on in a poll held somewhere on Orkut. =-)

What I'd really like to see is an online database, where information is collected anonymously, that keeps track of every item added to web browser spell checkers. I'd like to see if more people add sophisticated words that weren't included in the standard dictionary, or if more people add misspelled words beause they are sure that their spelling is right, and so on.

What do you think?

Rob Bryanton said...

Hey Justin, good to hear from you! I like your ideas.

In some ways I think your Orkut decision-making process is already happening with a lot of politicians, who make decisions and change their policy based upon what their pollsters are telling them... the result can be wishy-washy flip-floppers instead of leaders. If a random polling of the general public's gut reactions, rather than informed opinions from people familiar with all of the ramifications of a question is what drives public policy, is that a good thing?

The hopeful part of all this is that people have much more of an opportunity nowadays to inform themselves. A random telephone poll of people who have very little information to go on is not the best way to gather public opinion - but an online poll is still potentially subject to abuse by organized groups with a specific result in mind.

Have you seen this month's Wired magazine? Great cover story about how research is now entering the age of the petabyte, where information can be gathered from brute force analysis of thousands of gigabytes of data. Really, this is the Google trick as well - for the most part, the top search result in Google for a particular word is not there because of a particular axe to grind or a certain policy - it merely represents what millions of people have said, after considering the options, is the best result for the search term entered.

So maybe it's Google who should run for president? :-D


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