Monday, November 10, 2008

To the Victor Go the Hit Counts

A dear friend and astute social observer just registered a topical hit count smackdown. The two sparring factions within a Google search are:

"liberal historian": 10,500
"conservative historian": 17,200

He concludes:

"[t]he modifier is used to signify exceptionalism. So, my counterintuitive deduction is that historians lean to the left, thus the need to attach "conservative" more often than "liberal" since perhaps to many "liberal historian" is tautological.

He then substitutes a personifying actor for an actual advocate:

"Just something to consider when one sizes up the importance of the phrase "history will judge..."

Here's my take.

Google ignores most punctuation. This means that a phrase entered as "liberal, historian" counts word ordering alone -- not context. For example:

... important news that is flying under the radar. Posted by Contrarian at 6:42 PM. Labels: Conservative, historian, Liberal, Politics, Reagan, Welcome ...

Another distortion is the numerous duplicate entries attracted by both phrases in a Google web search -- it improves for specialty collections like Google News, Images, Scholar, etc.

Finally Google has its engineering fingerprints all over this thing -- not just in terms of its Ad Sense program (READ: Advertising for Mad Millennials) but even for the interpretation of what our search intentions happen to be. Don't believe me?

I then invite him to sample the useful information folly and direct him to reference the results starting with the 4th hit.

What is Google telling us? That we're really so sold on one specific search engine to assume that Google is a definitive final word on our inquisitive behaviors -- as in everything ever written about [blank] can be found thru ...?"

On the other hand if the mission is to use Google as an unofficial sampling of the world's fleeting, cumulative curiosities then yes: I would agree that reading hit counts on Google is akin to sampling an unscientific but plausible set of survey results.

One way to accentuate the actual usefulness of Google is to use syntax to aim your query in a way that squares your intentions with its indexer. For instance, if you limit your request to primary information providers, say bloggers, you get a much smaller, controlled, and arguably credible response:

"conservative historian" (inurl:blog OR inurl:blogs) = 316
"liberal historian" (inurl:blog OR inurl:blogs) = 229

One should also see a dramatic reduction in dupes and landing pages for books on Amazon. Hopefully we'll also see slight drops in the number of searchers duped by Google as well.

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attentionSpin is a consulting practice formed in 1990 to create, automate and apply a universal scoring system (“The Biggest Picture”) to brands, celebrities, events and policy issues in the public eye. In the Biggest Picture, attentionSpin applies the principles of market research to the process of media analytics to score the volume and nature of media coverage. The explanatory power of this research model: 1. Allows practitioners to understand the requirements for managing the quality of attention they receive 2. Shows influencers the level of authority they hold in forums where companies, office-seekers, celebrities and experts sell their visions, opinions and skills 3. Creates meaningful standards for measuring the success and failure of campaigns and their connection to marketable assets.