Sunday, October 24, 2010

Filling in the blanks

Andrew recently posted an interesting diagram of the different kinds of suggestions that Google autocomplete offers when you start typing in phrases to the search box, which are, in turn, based on the number of people typing in similar questions.

The diagram in question focused on religions, so, typing in 'Why are Christians so' would, it is reported, bring up suggestions such as 'crazy', 'hateful', 'intolerant' and 'stupid'...and these are just the ones that overlap with the same question about Muslims. And so on.

I've just tried it and am not getting any suggestions whatsoever, so it seems that somebody might have deactivated this particular suggestion string. As the company explains, they 'exclude a narrow class of search queries related to pornography, violence, and hate speech.' (This would, however, it also seems to exclude the search phrase 'Why are Buddhists so happy' -- noted on the diagram at Andrew's post -- which doesn't seem hateful to me at all.)

Apparently, though, turning off the hateful autocompletes only applies, it seems, to religions and ethnic groups and not so far to countries.

I tried typing in 'Why are Americans' to see what would come up. I received -- along with the expected 'so fat' and 'so stupid' -- the rather surprising suggestion 'afraid of dragons'.

I was not aware, previously, that this was a problem, I must admit. Has the dragon plague gotten worse since I left?

If you type in 'Why are Germans so' you get the completion suggestions: 'rude', 'mean', 'smart', 'tall' and, erm, 'hot'.

Interestingly, typing in the equivalent 'Warum sind die Deutschen' offers the suggestions 'pünktlich' (punctual), 'so dumm' (so dumb), 'so unbeliebt' (so unpopular) and 'in Afghanistan'.

Which seems to suggest, respectively, a desire for practical knowledge, a capacity for self criticism, a tendency toward self-pity and, finally, some remaining political interest in the big questions of the day.

Not that I'm dismissing for a moment the American fear of dragons.


cohu said...

I like the suggestions for "why do europeans":
...dislike americans
...have bad teeth techno
Good questions, actually.

"should i" gives you:
...refinance my mortgage an ipad
(I assume a proper American would just do both!)

John Carter Wood said...

The German site must be different. 'Why do Europeans' gets no response and 'should I' suggests ten variations on 'should I stay or should I go', usually referring to the Clash.

I find this preferable to an obsession with mortgages and iPads....