Googleholes: Apples and Oranges

by Rob Flickenger

There is an article making the rounds about everybody's favorite latest squash-two-words-together-and-call-it-a-meme: Googleholes.

If you haven't seen the article yet, check it out, it's definitely a good read. I just wonder about the author's choice of search examples. He first searches for the bare word "flowers", and complains that too many florists show up. Note that the search was for "flowers", not "flower", which returns very different results, and considerably fewer florists.

He then searches for the bare word "apple", and complains that Apple computer fills his search results. Note that he didn't choose "apples", which returns the Washington State Apple Commision as hit #2, and "Learn all about apples, growing and using them, and where to pick your own apples" from the University of Illinois as hit #1. Funny, but computers aren't mentioned until page five, where we find the ApplesBC computer club.

Apart from the obvious trickiness of playing the "word association game" with a very large database (which, as has been pointed out, is made much better by supplying more information to search on), I wonder why these particular words were chosen. Coming from, I certainly question the choice of using the word apple as an example.

What if the author had chosen a more neutral word, like orange? Good heavens, all of the Orange County governments of the world are in a conspiracy to deprive us of vitamin C! Or how about oranges? Well, at least we see some mention of the fruit on the front page, but those bloggers are making nasty inroads here.

My point is, be careful of what you search for, you just might find it. Of course Apple computer comes up when you search for "apple". Not only is it the URL for, but I would argue that people who publish web pages are far more interested in writing about TiBooks than about Granny Smiths. We've had apples (the kind you eat) for much longer than we've had Apples (the kind you type on). Maybe it's possible that we all know exactly what apples are, having digested them for thousands of years... But an Apple? That's something new, and probably worth talking about online.

Certainly don't rely on Google as your only source of information, but do give it a chance. While it can't tell you everything, it's the best tool I've found for telling you what people on the Internet are writing about. If you don't like the results you find in it, I highly recommend publishing your own authoritative information. If it's good, people will link to it, and it will eventually show up in Google's search results.

Making your site, the web in general, and Google even more valuable in the process...

Is Google just useless, or does it require some competence on the part of the user?


2003-07-24 09:42:55
totally agree
I think your assessment of this article is spot-on. His examples are dubious at best. Consider:

If you're doing research on tulips, or want to learn gardening tips, or basically want to know anything about flowers that doesn't involve purchasing them online, you have to wade through a sea of florists to find what you're looking for.

I wonder if he'd have better results finding research on tulips by using "tulip research" as his search string?

It seems to me that his searching methods are to blame more than google's technical skew. If one wants non-technical results, add some non-technical search terms. It's not too difficult.

2003-07-25 08:07:49
Try to google for information about windows for your home. Now that's a googlehole.
2003-07-25 09:22:16
37signals' Better Google
The design/usability firm 37signals came up with a "Better Google" concept that illustrates some of the points made in this point:

Here's the setup for the design: "Google is the search expert. Yet as good as their search engine is, the results are only as good as the search terms you enter. How can you know if "african coffee trade" is a better search than "africa's coffee trading" when you're doing research? You can't possibly know, but Google can. To help you discern between different synonyms and related terms, Google could provide a way to search for slight variations of your initial query and flag the ones that differ."

2003-07-25 15:51:59
windows? finds a few things.
2003-07-25 15:57:14
also, to take what you asked literally, has the windows you want as the 3rd, 4th, and 8th hits. Not the best search query, but it still finds something...