February 18, 2004

Google and stupid journalism tricks ("Lies, Damned Lies, and Google")

There's an interesting taking-to-task of lazy journalism in:

"Lies, Damned Lies, and Google"
with, sadly, a few error itself. First, some goofs:

What's more, as you might remember from December news reports, the phrase "miserable failure" for a while directed searchers to the White House home page, and "French military victories" brought up zero pages.

The "miserable failure" Google-bomb went primarily to the "Biography of President George W. Bush" page, not the White House home page. But a howler, the "french military victories" Google-bomb never returned zero pages.. The top page was a joke which claimed there were zero pages, and the punchline was the suggestion
"Did you mean: french military defeats"?

A deeper flaw which caught my eye, is that all throughout this article, many reporters don't seem to realize that a search for words without quotes, is significantly different from searching for words as a phrase, i.e. with quotes. Given several words, Google will rank highly the results with the words next to each other, returning them at the top of the list. This seem to have misled many people at to what they're doing. That is, searching hot dog is not the same as "hot dog". The former is roughly any page with the words "hot" and "dog" related to it, while the latter is the phrase "hot dog" (this is an approximate description).

So many of the number reported are utterly and completely meaningless. They don't even do the silly measure of the phrase the journalist thinks they measure. That is, the journalist might believe they are doing something tangentially related to frankfurters by searching for the phrase "hot dog" (neglecting use as e.g. a surfing term or different product). But in fact, they're searching for everything up to "It was a hot day, my dog was unhappy".

The Spokesman Review, in Spokane, Washington, confirms that the phrase "build backyard ice rink" yields 5,400 Google hits. ... If you're Canadian and stuck on the wrong side of the border without proper ID, don't worry, Google will save you, reports the Canada's Times Colonist; the phrase "permanent resident cards CA" will bring you to a "staggering" 92,200 sites on the subject.

NO. The phrases return zero or a few hits. The words return that many hits, but having lot of pages with the four words "permanent" "resident" "cards" "CA" somewhere on them, is not "staggering".

Sigh. Flash - journalists write nonsense. Not news at 11.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google , journo | on February 18, 2004 11:59 PM (Infothought permalink) | Followups
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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You nailed it on the head Seth.

Posted by: naj at February 22, 2004 09:38 PM