Sunday, 28 June 2009

Search Engines show wrong Michael Jackson - the problem with algorithms / real time (and how Wikipedia can confuse everything)

Search Engines have been struggling with the concepts of semantic search (understanding the intention behind your search in order to give the most relevant results) and real time search (giving the most up to date relevant results.) Whilst Search Engines have made progress in these areas, they have been shown to struggle with results for the search 'Michael Jackson died.'

1) 'Michael Jackson Died' on Google

Sorted out now since the following results were highlighted, but for a long time after his death Google confused two different Michael Jackson's - highlighting the death of Michael Jackson the writer, rather than Michael Jackson the singer:

Google Michael Jackson Died resultsGoogle show Michael Jackson the writer in first position (credit: Search Engine Land)

2) 'Michael Jackson Died' on Yahoo!

Yahoo! results are predominantly for Michael Jackson the singer, but the first position in Yahoo! natural search listings is for 'top beer expert Michael Jackson' who died in 2007:

Yahoo Michael Jackson Died resultsYahoo! showing the other Michael Jackson in position one of natural search listings
(click for larger image)

3) 'Michael Jackson Died' on Bing

Bing is also struggling with Michael Jackson the singer vs Michael Jackson the writer / beer expert. The first two natural search results on Bing are for 'Michael Jackson The Beer Hunter' and results relating to him continue to occur on the Bing first page:

Bing Michael Jackson Died resultsMichael Jackson The Beer Hunter referenced extensively on Bing results for 'Michael Jackson Died'
(click for larger image)

4) 'Michael Jackson Died' on results are really struggling to contextualise the search for 'Michael Jackson Died.' Not one of the homepage results for 'Michael Jackson Died' reference the King Of Pop - see for yourself here.

Cuil Michael Jackson Died - not one homepage result references the current Michael Jackson news
(click for larger image)

5) 'Michael Jackson Died' on Hakia

Hakia bills itself as a 'semantic search' engine that understands more about what the user is looking for. The Hakia results served up for 'Michael Jackson Died' are definitely more relevant than the other search engines referenced above. Hakia note the existence of Michael Jackson the writer, but seperate this off into a top section with the label 'would you consider this answer?' Impressive.

Hakia Michael Jackson Died resultsHakia's relevant results for 'Michael Jackson Died' (click for larger image)

Wikipedia has contributed to the Search Engine confusion. A seperate article for Michael Jackson (the writer) meant that since 2007 Wikipedia had been holding a story involving the phrase 'Michael Jackson Died' - it is easy to see how the Search Engines latched onto this as the most relevant result against the search 'Michael Jackson Died', especially in the short term.

Indeed Wikirank shows that visits to the profile of Michael Jackson the writer increased by 31,995% on June 25th. This 'other Michael Jackson' Wikipedia profile was visited 83,134 times on 25th June - even though it has nothing to do with the King Of Pop.

Wikirank results for Michael Jackson the writerWikirank profile visit results for Michael Jackson the writer

'Michael Jackson Died' shows the difficulty in offering semantic / real time search - the explosion of searches for Michael Jackson in the hours after his death were clearly aimed at finding information around Michael Jackson the singer, but Search Engines struggled to ignore their archive information and focus on the breaking news. Real time vs relevance is a difficult balancing act, but one that Search Engines will have to solve sooner or later.

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Will Google ever really know me?

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