April 23, 2004

Conversations with Helpful Google

A while back, we pointed out (following the lead of Cinderella Bloggerfeller) that Google's spelling correction algorithms could sometimes produce amusing exchanges like this one:

Search entry: gaaaaaaaaaa

Helpful Google: Did you mean: gaaaaaaaaa ?

A recent observation by Trevor at kaleboel led me into a new sort of dialogue with Helpful Google:

Query -- Prabble gnack pubble, tnil pniffertrub

Helpful Google-- Did you mean: Prebble gnack pubble, t nil pniffertrub ?

The exchange that Trevor cited, following Syntactic Saccharose, is a bit different, and depends on the fact that "Flurble gronk bloopit, bnip Frundletrune" is a string that is found in certain packets emitted by version 3.2.0 of NetStumbler (version 3.2.3 uses "All your 802.11b are belong to us" instead, etc.). Misspelling "Flurble" in that string leads Google to do something genuinely helpful, namely find the original NetStumbler string. In contrast, the probe cited above produces amusing results precisely because I'm (in effect) "teasing" earnest old Google with something that is beyond hope. Why this should be (even mildly) funny is a question in social psychology whose answer I don't know.

[Update: In a slightly different vein, Scott Parker emailed this conversation:

Search Entry-- ohhhhhh (o followed by 6 h's)

Helpful Google-- Did you mean: ahhh ?


Posted by Mark Liberman at April 23, 2004 08:20 AM