I'm Too Smart For My Google

by Francois Joseph de Kermadec

Since Google expanded internationally and got to face language barriers as well as legal discrepancies, they have an established policy of auto-detecting the country from which a user originates and present him with the "right" language. It's nice, too nice actually. In fact, it's as nice as a Microsoft Office Assistant: a little can be great fun but too much just makes you want to slam the computer through the window.

29 Comments

Jonathan
2006-05-31 08:05:32
Things are even worse when you're from Quebec (a French-speaking Canadian province). In most large websites (Google, Yahoo, etc.) you're served with content in French, but from France. It's like serving British content to Americans. I suppose this also applies to people from Switzerland, Belgium.


However, I'm quite happy with being able to run MacOSX in French, and applications (when available). With the notable execption of big, professional apps: After Effects loses me with its "images-clé" and, worst of all, Final Cut Pro changes all shortcuts and maps them to azerty keyboards (too bad for my qwerty, french-canadian keyboard), making it unusable. Tip: change your language pref in System Pref to English, launch the app, then set back your language pref to French.

Carl
2006-05-31 08:13:22
Here's the real kicker: try google.us. If you're not in an English speaking country, it's still in your country's language!! Arrrgh! I can understand re-routing google.com, but google.us? Why, Google, why?
Mike
2006-05-31 08:36:06
Jonathan,
news.google.be automatically comes in Dutch (which sort of makes sense with 66% of the population speaking Dutch), but 90% of the content is from Holland (I couldn't care less what happens there!)
When you go to the French version, most content is indeed from France, but French speakers in Belgium don't seem to mind (?!)
kugino
2006-05-31 08:59:28
i agree completely about google...i've always thought that they were one of the "smartest" companies out there, and i think they think they are...but your experiences with languages isn't so smart, as is my experience trying to get my full name as a username for Gmail. i'm japanese and my last name has the string, "...shit..." in it, and Gmail will not allow my last name in my username. i've contacted google about this and they said that some usernames are not allowed because of security reasons and they cannot tell me why my username is not allowed because that information is private. you'd think that google's computer algorithms would know the difference between offensive language and japanese surnames...but i guess they're not as smart as we thought (or they think)...
Oliver Dueck
2006-05-31 09:03:35
Your complaint is valid, but complaining that Google reverts to google.fr when you clear your cookies doesn't really make sense. Cookies are designed to store information, and thus deleting them 30 times a day defeats that purpose. I would never delete all of my cookies, but I may selectively delete them.
FJ
2006-05-31 09:30:54
Jonathan,


I can imagine it is a nightmare indeed! I do suppose "French" content easily steps onto the toes of Belgium or Swiss pages indeed. The question, of course, is how one can distinguish a Belgian page from a French one (save for the .fr/.be domains) without getting into advanced heuristics... A most interesting topic and one I hope some engineers are pursuing!


Thanks for the tip!


FJ

FJ
2006-05-31 09:31:21
Carl,


Frustrating indeed!


FJ

FJ
2006-05-31 09:31:43
Mike,


Thanks for the statistics, they are most enlightening!


FJ

FJ
2006-05-31 09:33:20
kugino,


Yikes, that's neither fun nor practical indeed... I have heard of a few "special authorizations" when such problems arose with other services but I guess since they require that an account be created from the backend, they are very unlikely to take place unless the company in question has a legal or financial reason to do so...


It does raise a very interesting question: how capable are computers to "understand" what we throw at them?


FJ

FJ
2006-05-31 09:35:00
Oliver,


Sorry if I was unclear. I am not complaining that Google looses my settings when I clear my cookies (that is quite logical). Instead, I am complaining Google uses cookies to deal with such a setting and does not rely on other persistant techniques such as the language header.


My clearing my cookies so often has a lot to do with my doing web development, testing sites and applications, as well as my lack of faith in the ability of browsers to connect cookies with the right websites.


FJ

Ian
2006-05-31 09:52:15
Here's one that annoys me! I'm in the UK, I go to my local Starbucks, use their wifi to go to google.com and it redirects me to google.de (presumably because the wifi comes from t-mobile who are german or something). Don't know who's to blame - Google for trying to be too clever or t-mobile for not having their IPs sorted out - all I know is that it's really annoying.
FJ
2006-05-31 09:56:16
Ian,


LOL! A very fine example! I'm sure a traceroute would tell us more about the specific problem but I understand it must be quite infuriating. Amazing how much data travels on the web, eh?


FJ

Matt
2006-05-31 11:02:35
I just want to know why on earth the author clears his cookies THIRTY TIMES A DAY??????


WTF?

FJ
2006-05-31 11:03:33
Matt,


The F answer is awaiting you three comments up.


FJ

jim
2006-05-31 12:45:03
isn't this why there are language-culture options? for instance in internet explorer's language preferences (i'm at a client site right now) you can change your language setting to whatever you want and order them in terms of preference. the choices are not French, English, etc, but French (Canada), English (Canada), etc. I'm developing a website right now that serves it's content based on this header that is passed in from the client browser. The site will initally be served in English (US), English (Canada) and French (Canada). we also give you the option to switch to a different site via a dropdown menu, but i think guessing the user's preference based on what the browser says it a good idea.
Walt French
2006-05-31 14:25:39
But here, more than being clever, Google proves inconsistent and that may be the worse thing one can say about a search engine.


Could've fooled me; I'd have called "lack of relevance" the worst feature of a search engine.


But more to the point: don't you think that whenever there's an effort to be "smart," predictability will be one of the first things to go? Lots of clever advances (not having to type "http://www.", auto-correction of "CAn", etc.) were almost shocking in their "waitaminnit!" impact the first time I realized they'd happened, and only (mostly) grew on me over time. Still bugs me when I want to copy a column of ones into a spreadsheet and Excel assumes I want 1,2,3,... On balance, I'll take the advance, even tho I have to learn a workaround that's specific to a particular smartness in spreadsheets.


Obviously, Google needs to provide a better way to work the way that you want, perhaps thru user customization, perhaps thru some other mechanism. But think of all these AI-type things they're trying to do with less-than-human intelligence: sometimes, they're gonna get it all wrong in their efforts to advance the state of the art. But I don't think that you want people to stop trying!

Don Thompson
2006-05-31 16:28:55

Serendipitous. This week I started with a new employer and visited the Dublin, Ireland office. Browsing to google.com redirected me to google.ie. Fine, but it had me confused for a few moments as to whether my personalised home page would work (new laptop too, no pre-existing cookies). Interesting point about Starbucks & T-Mobile, if one tries to sign up for gmail in the UK this same mechanism is used to redirect the user sign-up to googlemail.com but, now, to get a gmail address just surf from Starbucks!
Maarten
2006-05-31 23:10:02
I used to have the same problem, untill i set my preferences at Google. Now it's never a problem.
The preferences can be set just right of the search box.


If i go to google.com now it's in English, if i go to google.nl it's in Dutch. That's the way i want it...

FJ
2006-06-01 01:09:20
Jim,


Indeed, it is what this preference is for. On some browsers, like Safari, the language header will be automatically set based on your System Preferences settings but the end result is, indeed, very much the same.


FJ

FJ
2006-06-01 01:12:20
Walt,


Despite the general impression that Google is head and shoulders above the competition, I have to say all the major search engines (those I mentioned above at least) are pretty much equally useful to me. In that, I have not yet found a way to distinguish them based on relevance of results.


I certainly do not want people to stop trying building smart websites by any means. What worries me is that Google seems to increasingly go in that direction, making it more of a pain to switch languages and translating an increasing number of pages. I do appreciate where the idea comes from however and, while I am not fond of it at all in practice, can see why it was important to give it a try.


FJ

FJ
2006-06-01 01:13:46
Don,


Interesting example and certainly one that could get Google in trouble at some point if someone wanted to use it against them. Simple network glitch, heavy consequences... Technology at its best! ;-)


FJ

FJ
2006-06-01 01:14:53
Maarten,


Indeed, preferences are the way around this issue. One has to wonder however, whether it is a good thing to have to set preferences and keep cookies around in order to use a search engine in one's language of choice.


Of course, opinions will vary and I certainly am not pretending I am holding The Truth...


FJ


2006-06-01 03:12:18
Try http://google.com/ncr
Jochen Wolters
2006-06-04 14:12:30
Being redirected to a site with a different top-level domain indeed is a royal pain. However, I wouldn't consider using the language header for selecting the language to be much better: while the localized pages are served transparently, the language selection mechanism may be quite opaque to less experienced users.


Why not stick with the most obvious and most intuitive option and simply provide a language menu in a highly visible location on the home page (with language options listed in their respective languages, please...)?

FJ
2006-06-05 00:02:40
Jochen,


Thanks for taking the time to post! I agree a menu would have the advantage of being transparent. Unfortunately, such a system would probably require cookies to stick, which brings us back to square one somehow. Maybe a combination of both? Language header for automatic detection with the ability to store a setting in a cookie?


FJ

Anthony
2006-06-06 13:34:22
The article is absolutely right! Google just doesn't get the fact that someone might speak and use 2 or 3 languages. It's a daily annoyance. It's true for search but also true for gmail. Try spell checking in gmail when mixing languages: it just doesn't work. How hard can it be to implement that? Then again MS Office is *deplorable* too on that front :)
wtn
2006-08-22 17:15:01
If you want Google in english, just go to google.co.uk


I use google.fr/ig to help learn french

Tom
2006-09-18 09:38:19
You people just need to learn how to speak / read American English! That would solve all of your problems. America is running the world and you need to get with the program if you expect to survive and/or thrive.
carlo
2008-03-20 14:31:33
Hi,
Any possibility to deactivate the auto detect language from google?
Thanks