Tue Jul 29 09:45:15 GMT 2003 Googlitis
Gather closely, children. Draw the blinds so the neighbors may not see. Closer, for I need to whisper. There. Now listen carefully, and repeat this to no one:
Google is not perfect.
Be brave. Santa still toils in his workshop, the Easter bunny yet hops along. The sky has not fallen. But you need to learn not to entirely rely upon Google.
I saw a great example of why just yesterday. I review my web logs now and then with particular attention to Google searches. I do that to help me know what people are looking for, what Google is sending them to, and how I can make it easier for the next time.
While taking my notes, I noticed that the same ip address was repeating, coming from Google, looking for "aplawrence+netcat". Obviously this person was looking for something very specific to this site, but was not finding it. What they probably wanted (and apparently never found) was What is netcat and how do I get it?.
Google finds more than 700 matches for that search. The number one position actually is the right section of the FAQ, but of course Google doesn't take you to the right line. That's why i have a Search box right at the top of each FAQ page. Had this person typed "netcat" into THAT search box, the number one match from my search engine would have been What is netcat and how do I get it?, which takes them right to the very paragraph they probably want. They probably also could have just used their browser page search, though that would have taken longer because "netcat" is referenced quite a bit in that section.
That shouldn't be a major shock to anyone. It's true for most web sites. But this person apparently has a bad case of "I trust Google". The logs show them coming from other sites that Google sent them to because those sites point back here to something related to netcat. Not what was wanted, because the search went on. This poor soul spent quite a bit of time in pursuit of netcat, and was probably quite frustrated. But not once did they avail themselves of my bulit in search tools, which would have found what they were seeking instantly.
I don't mean that in the sarcastic sense that people so often use that phrase. I mean it literally: All Google knows is that "netcat" appears X times on page Y. That's great, but it doesn't have the important clue of how relevant the page really is. Very often the site provided searches DO have more than a clue about what's really useful and important.
Google has other problems too. A recent article at Slate Digging for Googleholes is good reading for more on that.
No, don't stop using Google. But learn to use other tools with it. Site specific search engines can sometimes be disappointing - sometimes you ARE, unfortunately, better off with Google. But at least give the other tools a chance.
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More Articles by Tony Lawrence © 2013-11-12 Tony Lawrence
One day my daughter came in, looked over my shoulder at some Perl 4 code, and said, "What is that, swearing?" (Larry Wall)