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!

Equal Time

OK, so you can blame today’s post on Lior. In all fairness, I’m pretty sure he wasn’t trying to trigger a post when he sent me an email about last week’s posts, but that’s just what he’s done. So if you’re sick about my curmudgeonly rantings about mobile devices, send your complaints about today’s post to Lior.

The gist of his email was that I hadn’t done full justice to Google’s decision to merge the Android Home Screen app into the Search app. What I said was that it’s “an interesting move on Google’s part to tie Android users closer to their own tools.” That’s true, but Lior is correct that it doesn’t really address what’s going on.

The immediate results of the change are small; essentially, it allows Google to easily integrate Google Now cards* into the Home Screen. In KitKat, they’ll only show up on the leftmost screen, but they could easily spread to other screens, and they’re well-positioned to move into the rest of the system.

* Google Now, for the uninitiated, is Google’s ongoing project to provide relevant information before you search for it. For example, by noting that you frequently search for movie showtimes on Friday afternoons, it might start showing you movie information on Fridays. Similarly, receiving an airplane boarding pass in your Gmail account could trigger Google Now to create a calendar event for the flight, offer directions to the airport, and suggest attractions and events at your destination–all based on searches you’ve made in the past. Those directions, for example, might be for public transit if you’ve frequently searched for bus or subway routes. The events might emphasize concerts if you search for music.

Don’t forget that Google search goes beyond the traditional keyboard entry these days. Tapping the microphone icon allows you to use voice input, and the most recent iterations of search steal a page from Google Glass and let you trigger voice input by saying “OK, Google”. The Moto X phone has voice input integrated throughout the phone, not just on the Home Screen–and remember that Motorola is now owned by Google. I expect that we’ll see “OK, Google” spreading across the rest of the OS in the next Android release.

A bit of additional evidence that Google is pushing Android toward tighter and tighter integration with Google’s own services: In KitKat, the familiar Gallery app has been decoupled from the Camera app and pushed aside. It’s received almost no updates in KitKat–not even a new high-resolution icon like the rest of the Google apps. At the same time, the Google+ Photos app has been renamed to simply “Photos”. It looks like the next Android release may well do away with Gallery and push users into the Google+ service so that all your photos are tied to your Google identity. Fun, fun!

And one more change in KitKat is the integration of Search into the dialer and incoming call screens–they’ll now automatically do Google searches for phone number information. Next time Lior calls me, I won’t just see his name, I’ll get his picture (which will probably be added his entry in my address book), and perhaps a link to his Google+ profile. That’s going to happen even if Lior is calling from his new cell phone with a number that isn’t already in my address book.

Google is the new Santa: They see you when you’re sleeping, they know when you’re awake (and given how deeply the NSA has penetrated Google’s infrastructure, you damn well better be good.) The Apple patent I griped about last week has some serious implications for physical security. Google’s moves don’t have the same physical ramifications, but they sure do have some nasty implications for your privacy and online security.

You’re Searching For What?

Well, that’s no surprise.

The number one search on Google today is for iOS 7. Because there’s such a small number of sites with any information about Apple’s latest OS, and there’s been little, if any, public discussion of the new features, the release date, or how to install it, the public has an insatiable need for all the details today.

Seriously, WTF? IOS 7 articles have been swamping the Web for weeks, and it’s only now that it’s available to install that people are searching for it? Over five million searches today and it didn’t even make 50,000 yesterday to crack the top searches list.

Can we add procrastination to the list of society’s ills, along with short attention spans and leaving baseball games before they end?

In other search-related news, yesterday “Grand Theft Auto 5” was number four on Google’s list — and “GTA 5 Cheats” was number six, with nearly as many searches.* Today, “GTA 5 Cheats” has moved up to number five, but the game itself has dropped off of the list. I conclude that the people who don’t cheat at video games are busy downloading iOS 7 today. Presumably the cheaters are Android users.

* Am I the only one who finds it amusing that the number five search was another automotive simulation: “NASCAR”?

What else is going on in the wacky world of searching?

The number two search today is “Scott Eastwood”. Clearly, there’s great interest in topless males — more than in topless females, as January Jones is well behind at number seven. Maybe it’s just breast exhaustion? Yesterday searchers were deeply into Christina Milian’s nipple-revealing tank top, after all. They were also eagerly hunting for intel on Emily Ratajkowski, nude star of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” video.

It looks like the world’s interest in the Washington Navy Yard shooting has faded. Yesterday’s number one search, “Aaron Alexis”, has fallen off of the list completely today. Did I mention “short attention spans”? I did? Oh, good.

Now that I think about it, three of today’s top ten searches are for specific celebrities, and another three are for movies and TV shows. Can we also add “celebrity obsession” to the list?

I was hoping that the above were American problems, but unfortunately not. The top three searches in the UK are “iOS 7”, “GTA 5 cheats”, and “Tour of Britain”. At least the British are interested in a bicycle race. That’s something.

Canadians: “iOS 7”, “OC Transpo”, and “Ottawa Citizen”. Apple leads a bus/train accident and a murder by an order of magnitude. And Scott Eastwood is in there at number five. Scott, pleas put your shirt back on, so Canadians can get back to cheating on video games.

In Japan, iOS 7 is trailing slightly behind pop group AKB48 for the public’s attention. Go, Japan, go!

And in India, iOS 7 is drawing five times as much attention as actor Dilip Kumar.

“I blame society” has become a clich√©, and doesn’t really work as an excuse for aberrant behaviour today, so let’s try a different theory: clearly Google is broken. Please join me in attempting to fix it by spending the rest of the day in using it the way it was intended: searching for cat videos. Just watch out for Nyan Cat.