The 1,000,000 Google pages meme

A meme is a form of idea that propagates almost by itself as if it had its own life (possibly undergoing modifications and evolution). The basic principle has been first described by Richard Dawkins in his world-famous book “The selfish gene” where he draws a clear parallel between gene and meme. I had previously described the evolution of a meme that I liked a lot: This series of funny sentences attirbuted to various famous people assumed to be answering the question “Why did the chicken cross the road?“. I’m sure that you know it as it appears again and again all around the Internet.

But, I also noticed another meme whose existence and wealth is quite impressive to me. It lives on and on and most people do not even perceive the weak reasonning hidden behind it.

More and more, whenever an investigative journalist wants to speak about a new phenomenon or an upcoming news trend, he/shee will rush to Google to tell us hwo many times the keyword is found on the Internet. So, assuming that it could inform us of the growing interest into it, “avian flu” had to be evaluated on Google as if the large numbers supported the seriousness of the symptoms. After some famous soccer/football player reacted violently on the field to some remark made by an Italian adversary, it was possible to look for “Zidane head kick” on Google again.

I am quite happy to see the efficiency of Internet and one of its flagship tools. But there are two things clearly annoying in the use of this Google-based meme. First, anybody using the Google search engine knows that nobody actually take this quantitative information as significant relatively to the on-going search. This is purely anecdotical even Google does not try to overblow the importance of this minor information. Just think! When did you actually look at this during a search? Did you even notice it in the last 10 searches you performed on Google? But in the context of news and journalism, it became common to see this used in the opening paragraphs of an investigative article on a new trend.

The second issue I have with it is that in most cases, it is merely a search not on an isolated word (all journalists would recognize that a “Zidane” search would only lead to “information” about a soccer player fame) but on a group of words (“hydrogen car”). And in nearly all cases, results are terribly skewed by a thing often forgotten. Without adding quotes around the group of keywords, the result tends to return all page containing either one of the words instead of both tightly linked. This gives seriously inflated results.

There goes scientific precision and significance!

I guess I will not really influence this meme’s development. It will keep growing and thriving until Google leaves its dominant role as world’s search engine or stops returning this information.

Additional material

Some more links to interesting and loosely related things:

  • Google trends, to compare the search trends of up to 5 different keywords.
  • Google suggest uses search statistics to help you by suggesting search terms while you type your own keywords.

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