If you have landed on this page thinking that this is a post about your favourite football or rugby team, please note that this is an update on my earlier article ‘Google decides that coots are really lions’ (http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/2011/02/12/google-decides-that-coots-are-really-lions/). It has nothing to do with sporting activities unless you count trying to work out what Google is doing with your search! The original post was about how and why Google decided that a search on coots mating behaviour should really have been lions mating behaviour.
The first response to my posting was a comment from Arthur Weiss (http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/2011/02/12/google-decides-that-coots-are-really-lions/comment-page-1/#comment-14207).
He suggested that Google was treating coots and lions as synonyms (both are living creatures). I thought that was pushing synonyms too far even for Google. (Sorry, Arthur).
I then had two comments in quick succession from Susanna Winter via Twitter (@Mrs_Figaro). The first is at (http://twitter.com/Mrs_Figaro/statuses/36714410223341568):
Moving coots from the beginning to the end of the strategy resulted in an exact match and not a single lion in sight:
Changing the order of the search terms is a trick I often use to change the order of my results or bring up pages that might be buried in the hundreds or thousands, but I have never seen such a dramatic change such as this.
Susanna’s search strategy ‘coots feeding behaviour’, which came up with an exact match, muddied the waters even more. Perhaps there is a search frequency algorithm coming into play? Are there more searches for lions mating behaviour than for coots, but not lions feeding behaviour? I am not convinced that this explains Google’s insistence on looking for lions rather than our animal of choice. Susanna’s next tweet suggests what is going on (http://twitter.com/Mrs_Figaro/statuses/36715389190676480):
What you see is:
So Arthur was on the right track. (My apologies, Arthur). What probably happened with our search is, as Susanna said, that Google first assumed a typo and then did a synonym search on cats. What puzzles me, though, is how Google arrived at cats from coots. Surely coyotes or goats would be nearer when it comes to typographical errors?
I have two final variations on our search to confuse you even further.
The first is repeating coots at the start of the strategy. An exact match:
Now move one of the ‘coots’ to the end of the strategy and Google asks “Did you mean lions mating behaviour coots”:
I give up!