A new Google “feature”

I’ve written a lot of stuff on the Web, and when I need to find some of it, Google is where I go. Lately, however, the going hasn’t been quite as good, because Google most of the time asks me if I want to spell my surname differently. For example, if I look up searls infrastructure, I get “Did you mean: Searles infrastructure“? I never used to get that. Now I do.

The former brings up 251,000 results, by the way, while the latter brings up 11,600. And the top result is a guy named Searle.

On that search, by the way, Bing does a better job. At least for me. Same with Yahoo.

[Later...] See the comments below. Looks like we got some debugging of sorts done here. And thanks to Matt and Pandu for responding, and so quickly. Well done.

8 comments

  1. Matt Cutts’s avatar

    I’ll mention this. Looks like there’s a Kenneth D. Searles and a William A. Searles that both work on various types of infrastructure, so for many searchers this might be a good suggestion.

  2. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Matt.

    I suspect increased algorithmic weighting of surname prevalence. "Searles" is much more common than "Searls".
    Here’s what Mongabay says

    Searle:

    - SEARLE ranks # 7059 in terms of the most common surnames in the United States for 2000.
    - SEARLE had 4,369 occurrences in the 2000 Census, according the U.S. government records.
    - Out of a sample of 100,000 people in the United States, SEARLE would occur an average of 1.62 times.

    Searles:

    -SEARLES ranks # 5367 in terms of the most common surnames in the United States for 2000.
    - SEARLES had 5,970 occurrences in the 2000 Census, according the U.S. government records.
    - Out of a sample of 100,000 people in the United States, SEARLES would occur an average of 2.21 times.

    Searls:

    - SEARLS ranks # 17141 in terms of the most common surnames in the United States for 2000
    - SEARLS had 1,526 occurrences in the 2000 Census, according the U.S. government records.
    - Out of a sample of 100,000 people in the United States, SEARLS would occur an average of 0.57 times.

    So Searls is roughly 1/4 as common as Searles, which is more common than Searle. Perhaps that’s why Google suggests a user might mean "Searles" instead of "Searle" when searching for "Searls".

  3. Pandu Nayak’s avatar

    I’m a member of the spelling team at Google. Thanks for pointing this out. You’re right that there are some legitimate reasons why our system might think it’s a potentially good suggestion. We’ve done an analysis of this particular case and have some ideas on how to fix this and other similar cases. We’ll try those ideas out and with any luck, it will help with such cases in the future. On the bright side, we don’t trigger searls->searles for more clearcut queries such as [searls] or [doc searls]. Thanks again for mentioning this.

  4. Ben’s avatar

    Bing seems to already have the upper hand in a lot of the queries. I’ve been eager to see what people think. I’ll probably force myself to switch over in the near future. I guess we’ll have to wait and see if Bing can take over. Still, didn’t they say in one of their announcements that they’re goal isn’t to dominate the search engines, but only to climb to the #2 spot?

  5. Doc Searls’s avatar

    I’ve been using more of Bing, but I don’t think of it as “switching.” More like “adding.” I find Bing’s birds-eye view in Maps especially helpful in many cases. Nothing else like it.

  6. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Pandu, if you’re still following this thread, I see no difference yet. FWIW, etc.

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