I’m Confused

I still don’t understand how Google decides that searches are or are not related.

Take yesterday’s top searches, for example. Number One, by a ten-to-one margin was “St. Patrick’s Day”. Google says that related searches are “st patricks day,” “saint patricks day,” “st patrick,” and “when is st patrick’s day*”. Well and good. Except that “leprechaun” came in at Number Five on the day and “shamrock” made it to Number Fourteen. (I could also include “corned beef and cabbage” and its related search “corned beef and cabbage recipe” at Number Nine on my “I’m puzzled” list, but I’ll cut Google a break.)

* Is this the latest sign of the decline of civilization: on the day before St. Patrick’s Day, people don’t know when it is?” Or is it just that we’ve reached the point where it’s faster and easier to ask Google than to look at a calendar?

Is there really so much search action for shamrocks and leprechauns the rest of the year that the big G doesn’t think they’re related to Sam Patrick?

OK, maybe I’m expecting too much, thinking Google will pair up peripherally-related topics. But wait!

The Number Two search yesterday was “Dancing With the Stars”. That has “Suzanne Somers,” “Noah Galloway,” “Redfoo,” “Robert Herjavec,” and “Dancing With the Stars 2015” as related searches. So peripherally-related topics have been linked in. Unless you’re going to try to tell me that DWtS is the only reason someone might search for Ms. Somers.

And worse, Number Four was “Rumer Willis” with related searches “Demi Moore,” “Bruce Willis,” and “dwts” (emphasis mine). Why isn’t “dwts” a related search for “Dancing With the Stars” and why aren’t searches for Ms. Willis being counted for the show, just as Ms. Somers’ are?

More inconsistency: “Charlotte McKinney” made it to Number Seven on the list on the strength of her DWtS appearance, and she doesn’t even have the show on her list of related searches. Ditto for Willow Shields and Riker Lynch (Numbers Eleven and Fifteen, respectively), who probably wouldn’t even have hit Google’s Trending list without the DWtS connection.

How about it, Google? Want to clear up the mystery for us? Or should we just assume it’s all done randomly?

You may have noticed, by the way, that I didn’t mention the Number Three search on Google yesterday. Amazingly enough, it had nothing to do with either St. Patrick’s Day or “Dancing With the Stars”. It was “Dairy Queen”. More than 200,000 people checked with Google, apparently trying to confirm that yesterday was Free Cone Day.

Now there’s a holiday Google really should have used Google Now to promote. After all, who wouldn’t like to be notified about free ice cream? OK, maybe not the residents of the Boston area, who have been hit with more than nine feet of snow this year, with more on the way. But the rest of us? Give us the option, Google!


Well, Google did it to me again. Every time I look at their Top Charts, I find something confusing.

This time around, it’s the “Animals” chart. It’s not that the chart itself is confusing, nor are there any peculiar entries. No, what’s confusing me is the actual data.

Number One: “Dog”

Number Two: “Cat”

And it’s not even close. If we can believe Google, people search for dogs more than twice as often as they search for cats. And it’s been that way since Google started keeping statistics back in 2004. Here’s the comparative popularity of dogs and cats as measured by Google over the past decade:

“OK,” I hear you say. “People are more interested in dogs than cats. So what?”

Well, it just doesn’t make sense. The Internet was created for cats. Nobody wastes their entire day looking at videos of dogs in boxes. Nobody obsessively creates LOLDog images*. There’s no mythology of Basement Dog, Ceiling Dog, or even Monorail Dog.

* Yeah, OK, there is Doge. But his followers are a lunatic fringe, and he’s only been hot for the past year. Doesn’t explain the numbers prior to 2013.

So what’s going on? I can only come up with two possibilities. Either our Evil Feline Masterminds are attempting to minimize their visibility on the Internet, or the Criminal Canine Conspiracy is staging a takeover.

I don’t see an obvious way to establish which is correct–though if we see a surge in feline snuff videos, that would be a pretty good indication that the CCC is adopting ISIS’ tactics*.

* By that logic, a surge in videos featuring non-fatal violence against cats would suggest the CCC is fronting for the NFL. Or maybe using the Internet to facilitate a takeover of the NFL. There are, after all, four cat-related team names (Bengals, Lions, Jaguars, and Panthers), but not a single dog-related team name.

My money is on the EFM scenario. There’s been a real shortage of news coverage of criminal cats lately. Take another look at that chart. Notice how smooth the cat curve is compared to the dog curve. The variations in the canine searches strikes me as suspicious. Why would it suddenly peak, then drop back? Those are the kind of numbers you would see if a random number of searches were being added to the actual interest levels.

I suspect the EFM has been conducting a disinformation campaign, pumping “dog” searches into Google late at night when their cover humans aren’t online. Check your browser history, especially if you spot suspicious cat hair on your keyboard.

Musing on Current Events

Blame it on the World Cup. Sports have almost completely taken over Google’s Hot Searches list. Of the top ten searches for Monday, seven are sports-related. Five of those seven are related to the World Cup–the other two are “LeBron James” (basketball) and “Wimbledon 2014” (tennis). Total World Cup domination is expected. What’s more interesting is the three non-sporting items in the list.

At Number Seven, we have “Teen Wolf”. Yeah, more than 50,000 people are looking for information on the fourth season of a TV show based on a thirty-year-old Michael J. Fox movie*. Ah, America, I weep for you! No, actually I’m glad to see it. As long as the general public continues to show interest in Teen Wolf, True Blood, and Twilight, it means there’s still a large audience for urban fantasy. Despite Laurell K. Hamilton’s best efforts to destroy it, I think it’s a sub-genre that still has some room to do interesting things.

* It’s probably germane to mention that Fox’s character played basketball…

Number Nine is “Alaska Earthquake.” Good to know that people are paying attention to what’s going on in the real, non-sporting world. Here’s an interesting fact: According to the USGS, the continental United States has survived 53 earthquakes of magnitude 2.5 or above in the past week. Of those, 31 (58%) were in Oklahoma. You think Mother Nature might be a little annoyed at Oklahoma? I’ve been trying to think why that might be. I doubt it has anything to do with the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, and it seems unlikely that it has anything to do with the state’s unique perspective on marriage. I can’t help wondering how much of Oklahoma’s current miseries have to do with the amount of oil and natural gas that’s been mined in the state. Come on, people, think! Anyone who’s ever played Jenga knows you can’t pull all of the bottom pieces out of the stack without toppling it…

Number Ten. Um. Well, this is where we start getting back to America’s usual fascinations. “Frances Bean Cobain” squeaks into the tenth slot, just ahead of “Robin Thicke” and “Hayden Panettiere.” Think about this for a moment: those three searches cover celebrity, death, sex, and (preferably female) skin. All the topics we normally see cropping up in the Hot Searches list. The World Cup isn’t so much distracting America from its usual preoccupations as it is compressing them.

Update: While I was writing this piece, the search statistics for Tuesday started to appear. The first search to garner enough traffic to make the list? “Luis Suarez.”

Suarez is a member of Uruguay’s World Cup team, and he’s in the news because he apparently bit an opponent during a game today.

Yeah. Bit him. Folks, this is clearly the ultimate news story for the week. We’ve got your sports, we’ve got your celebrity violence, and we’ve even got your urban fantasy–clearly Mr. Suarez is under the impression that he’s a vampire: this is at least the third time he’s been accused of biting someone during a game. The only thing we’re missing is an earthquake. Fortunately for Brazil, all of the South American earthquake activity recently has been in Chile, on the opposite side of the continent.

You know, I just got a great idea for a story…