Wednesday, July 30, 2008

First encounter with Google

Siva Vaidhyanathan is asking for stories about peoples' first encounters with Google on his blog Googlization of Everything. I had a kind of pre-encounter with Google, and this is what I posted on his blog.

I had been guest lecturing at Stanford about searching, showing the CS students some of the down sides of free-text searching. ("fiber optics" v. "fibre optics"). Around that time I was chatting with the brother of one of the Google founders. He told me that his brother was working on a new search engine that would be better than anything ever seen before. I tried to argue that it would still be limited by the reality of the full-text search. I probably looked at Google when it was first made available, and I was pretty un-impressed. Just more keyword searching.

Today I use it constantly, but I'm very aware of the fact that it works quite well for nouns and proper nouns (people, companies, named things), and less well for concepts. It also greatly reflects the Internet culture, where python is a programming language, not a reptile, and ruby as a gem takes second place to ruby on rails. I think of it as a giant phone book for the Internet, not as a classification of knowledge.


Jon Gorman said...

I'm not even sure if it really reflects the Internet culture or if it's purposely biased in favor of programming languages and technical topics. I recall when I first started using Google way back in the day it was being talked about among the CS students just because it was really good at this compared to the other search engines.

Today it seems actually less good. Often it'll find somethings, but there is so much spam in the form of very basic articles used to just push ads and consultants. Forums also add to the junkpile.

I've always wondered though in those earlier days if you looked for frequency of certain terms if the technical ones really did dominate the web or if it was just the pages that Google started indexing.

Jon Gorman said...

What I meant was that recently Google's search has seemed less valuable. "Today it seems actually less good" reads like...well ...less good ;).

*sigh* Hopefully you got I what I meant.