Precision in search is the key

haystack If you’ve ever wondered how searching for information on the web works, and why Google seems to produce accurate results search after search – thankfully, it seems to me, in spite of what you type in that search box at times – a feature story in Wired magazine‘s March edition will give you some powerful insight.

In How Google’s Algorithm Rules the Web, Wired’s senior writer Stephen Levy takes us on a journey that describes with the right level of compelling detail just how Google works, not only from the obvious search point of view but also from the organization perspective: how the people within Google approach their work.

Levy’s story includes a credible assessment of Bing, the competitor search engine from Microsoft, and contrasts the different types of result you would get when searching on the exact same key words and phrases in both search engines.

And that perfectly illustrates a critical point in Levy’s story, with this example:

[…] Google’s response [to Microsoft’s view that the algorithm is extremely important in search, but it’s not the only thing] can be summed up in four words: mike siwek lawyer mi.

[…] The top result connects to a listing for an attorney named Michael Siwek in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It’s a fairly innocuous search — the kind that Google’s servers handle billions of times a day — but it is deceptively complicated. Type those same words into Bing, for instance, and the first result is a page about the NFL draft that includes safety Lawyer Milloy. Several pages into the results, there’s no direct referral to Siwek.

The comparison demonstrates the power, even intelligence, of Google’s algorithm, honed over countless iterations. It possesses the seemingly magical ability to interpret searchers’ requests — no matter how awkward or misspelled.

That’s exactly what makes Google the prime search engine, the one I use when I just know it’s likely to give me accurate results, often no mater what I type into that search box (although a caveat on that is in Levy’s tweet regarding the Siwek search phrase).

I believe everything about the web – from your social networks to information you bookmark – is all about search: your ability to zero in on the things that interest you and are relevant (as you, individually, define what’s relevant) and filter out the things that don’t and aren’t.

It’s not a good enough descriptor, actually. Here’s what it should be: everything about the web is all about search results with precision.

That’s better.

(Awareness of Wired story via Marshall Manson: no search needed)

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Daniel Young

    Do accurate results super cede your objectivity? Is an accurate result necessarily the right or best answer.

    You’re making a huge assumption that there is a relationship between the quality of the information and the accuracy and precision of Google search results.

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