The ultimate search engine would basically understand everything in the world, and it would always give you the right thing. And we’re a long, long way from that.
Larry Page, co-founder of Google
I don’t know how a search engine could “basically understand everything in the world”, probably because I don’t understand how computers work. (Actually, I don’t even really comprehend how television works — or radios, for that matter.) I’m perfectly content to think of them as miraculous and mysterious inventions. What interests me are the workings of the minds of the people who developed the computer and the Internet. I just started reading The Innovators: How a Group of Geniuses, Hackers, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution, by Walter Isaacson (author of Steve Jobs) — it’s absolutely fascinating, focusing on how teamwork enhances creativity.
As I was reading the first chapter of The Innovators, I found myself Googling various things that piqued my interest. Several of my searches directed me to blogs, which made me wonder what Google searches led people to Books on the Table. I found information about “referrers” and “search terms” on the stats page for the blog, and was not surprised to learn that Google is by far the largest referrer to Books on the Table, accounting for 87% of all Internet searches that led to the blog. What did surprise me was that Google’s privacy restrictions prevented me from knowing what search terms people used that connected them with Books on the Table.
Other search engines (Bing, Yahoo, AOL, etc.) do provide information about specific search terms. The most popular searches were: “Good books for book clubs”; “What happened to the diamond in All the Light We Cannot See?”; and “We Are Liars book review”. One person asked a question that I think requires human, not artificial, intelligence: “If members of my book club hate the book I chose what does this tell me?” (OK, Larry Page, explain how the “ultimate search engine” would respond to that.) Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised at this question, since I read in a Google promotional piece that the number one question asked on Google this year is “What is love?”.
Here are a few of the most unusual search terms that somehow led readers to Books on the Table in 2014:
- Term paper on Jay Gatsby Do I detect possible plagiarism?
- Rick Maus marijuana grower and book writer This one intrigued me, but my search turned up only an article in Sugarbeet Grower magazine about a device used in harvesting beets
- Best novels by W.B. Yeats Well, I think he did write a short story or two.
- Book about young girl who have a time mashine and meet Al Capone I think I might know this one! It could be Al Capone Does My Shirts — although I don’t recall a “time mashine”.
- Francine Fleece Seattle This is mysterious, since I searched myself and came up with no results. However, three people were looking for the elusive Francine Fleece.
- Mob Wives Chicago still on the air? Don’t search engines know that Books on the Table doesn’t cover reality TV?
- Book club cocktail napkins There were many searches for these. Maybe Books on the Table should start selling them?
- Is Sarah Churchwell married? Four people wanted to know this. I checked, and Churchwell (author of the terrific book Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby, coming in paperback in January) is married. If things don’t work out for her, there may be plenty of potential suitors out there.
Happy New Year! May all your Internet searches be fruitful in 2015.