The Lumber Room

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Google and inflection

with 3 comments

It is a generally useful feature that Google tries to “Do What I Mean” instead of taking our queries literally to “Do What I Say”, but sometimes it’s annoying.

For example, searching for [sarah palin trigonometry] includes results that do not contain the word ‘trigonometry’ at all. Fortunately, searching for [sarah palin “trigonometry”] works (which might contradict intuition that putting quotes around single words should not matter).

I have seen Google do this many times (return results which do not contain the words searched for), but can’t recall other examples right now… can you?

Written by S

Thu, 2008-10-23 at 10:27:33

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with ,

3 Responses

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  1. When we tried it a few years ago, we observed that changing the order of words in a Google search does not change either the set or the rankings of the search results. At the time, Google search didn’t try to be too smart: it just looked for pages with all the words and ranked them by relevance. Now, Google tries to look for sense within the sequence of typing words even when no quotes are put; for instance, searching for red blue green or red green blue or green red blue all yield different orderings. Searching for I am good and I good am and good am I again yield different results.

    May be we can “shut up” Google’s trying-to-second-guess-me nature by putting quotation marks around each word? Nope. I tried that for I am good and good am I, and it doesn’t work. I don’t know if I can define an action of the symmetric group of three elements on the words I am good and ask Google to return a set of results that is invariant under the action :).


    Tue, 2008-10-28 at 11:39:13

  2. Good observation… It is slightly believable that the score of “relevance” of a certain page might change with the order of words in your query (so you might get different results) but what I don’t understand is that it even gives a different *number* of results. E.g six times as many results for “Paris Hilton” as for “Hilton Paris” :)

    (So searching for [I am good I good am am I good am good I good I am good am I] will not balance out all permutations, but give fewer results instead. :-))

    There is also the phenomenon of Google returning different results based on whether you’re searching from,,,,, … and based on whether you’re signed in or not.


    Tue, 2008-10-28 at 15:11:22

  3. Here’s another weird set of results:
    [ebcdic has no relevance to your life] has the Joel on Software article as its second result. Searching for the actual phrase in the article, namely, but searching for [[EBCDIC is not relevant to your life], has the result not turn up at all! And searching for it in quotes, as [“EBCDIC is not relevant to your life”] has it on top.


    Thu, 2008-10-30 at 22:43:49

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