Did you hear the one about the diarrhea eating parakeet? No? Go to Google and type in the words “Why won’t.” Wait. Hold on a sec, let me do it for you and show how Google search results get hijacked.
Before you get all hot-and-bothered, I know Google query suggestions aren’t technically search results, but they are designed to guide your search efforts and make the process potentially easier. Typing in “why won’t” and having the first suggestion refer to a universally absurd question makes this a pretty interesting Google mistake. Come to think of it, check out the second suggestion above – I can’t say I’ve often (or ever) wondered the same.
The most unique source for this Google mistake I’ve found comes from a comment posted on a gather.com article about this irrelevant result on Google search:
“This originated NOT from failblog, but from a show called tosh2.0 over the summer. On the show they have a segment for funny yahoo answers postings on answers.yahoo.com. Tosh2.0 featured a post where the poster asked the question, “why won’t my parakeet eat my diarrhea?” Someone responded with, “why would you want to make your parakeet eat your diarrhea?!”, to which the asker replied, “that did not answer my question.”
The original post has been deleted, or else I would link you to it. It had me laughing hysterically when I saw it on television, and I of course searched for it (back over the summer). That is why there are so many hits on Google for it.”
Whether this is the source for the poop squirt-bird phenomenon doesn’t matter. The larger question is how irrelevant results on Google search get such high rankings? Subquestion – how do these Google mistakes linger for so long?
Here’s my theory – a theory backed by minutes of semi-deep thought and powered by a lunch of cold coffee and one day-old chicken tender.
Many times when you execute informational searches on Google (what is…; where does…; how can I…; etc.) you’ll find one or more Q & A sites or wikis on the first page of results. Often, though, these results leave Google search results hijacked by crappy or incomplete information.
The reason is because Google wants to promote and reward those sites that take the “knowledge” of the masses to solve problems. Sites like Wikipedia are usually the first result for informational queries, if not in the top 5. The problem is, those sites are usually teeming with stupid crap.
I popped in the question “how many miles to the moon” and one of the top results was Yahoo Answers. Here’s some of the information on this page:
Whoa, whoa. Slow down there. The quality of this answer is so amazingly high that I am having trouble threading it through my brain. Seriously, though, what a stupid response.
And, then there’s the self-righteous “answerer” who can’t pass up an opportunity to needle stupid Americans for how stupid and stubborn we are:
The point is, we look to Google for answers, not crappy pap that passes for information in Google-land. Stop looking to the masses to answer even the simplest of questions.
These same masses spend hours watching reality television and wearing absurdly large sunglasses without concern for whether the sun is actually out. Instead of favoring the idea of group participation and relying on the “knowledge” of the masses, maybe Google should just….I don’t know – find us the right answer (or at least good information).
And Wikipedia results should be treated no different.
Imagine you handed in a report to your boss and written across the top was a note that the contents of the report needed verification; additional information; or were not particularly factual. It wouldn’t fly, right? That’s what Google pulls off every time you get a Wikipedia result (usually in the top spot) from your search efforts. Is Wikipedia a wonderful idea? Yes. It is chock full of information? Yes. Should Google favor Wikipedia entries that are either suspect or incomplete? Absolutely not.
Insolent, diarrhea-eating parakeets aside – are Google results as natural and organic as they should be? It doesn’t really seem that way. Are Google mistakes intentional or does their mysterious algorithm have a few holes in it intended to influence results in favor of community-generated information? No one can be sure, but I tend to believe the latter.
Whether you consider Google search results hijacked or not, you have to admit that irrelevant results on Google search are a problem. Without knowing exactly why Q&A sites and Wikis tend to appear quite high in informational search results, I’m left to wonder why Google is purposely giving me crappy information.
However, if Google insists on giving more weight to often incoherent, community-driven answers to informational queries, I think I might qualify. For example, I know why your parakeet won’t eat your diarrhea – it’s because your presentation is all wrong.