I was doing some research for my job the other day, trying to find images that would help me tell a story for a digital marketing PowerPoint deck I was doing. In this particular case, I was trying to illustrate the effect of tearing down operational silos in companies, and thought that a “wrecking ball” image would do a great job of illustrating that point. Have you tried doing a Google image search for a popular/trendy term like “wrecking ball”? Because if you haven’t, be prepared to shield the eyes of the wife and kids.
Now my kids are like any other normal stardom-crazed prepubescents, but I suspect I was more shocked than they would have been. What I got back was pages and pages of Miley Cyrus’ “wrecking ball” video images. I had to go down to the 27th image before I found the first one that was of a plain, old, boring wrecking ball. The first three image categories at the top were for “Album Cover”, “Lyrics” and “Parody”. Following in tow were “Crane”, “Demolition” and “Construction”. Clearly, Google didn’t know what I was looking for, and had pigeon-holed me into a demographic and cultural base that I just wasn’t part of (or interested in).
So then I tried another search, this time for “mustang” (a wrecking ball vs. a horse? … at the least the horse could run away.) In this case, “Horse” was at least the second image category suggested, although I had to go to the 116th image before I was looking at a majestic animal, not a Ford Mustang in all its thunder and glory. In fact, in that first page of results (hundreds of images) there was only one of an actual horse.
All this got me to thinking, what ever happened with the Google Hummingbird update? Where was the promise of the semantic web, with all its ability to infer meaning and provide a truly personal web searching experience? Where was the intelligence, or even choice for that matter, in an attempt to serve up the content I was really looking for?
Instead of a personalized and intelligent search experience, I was seeing results largely dictated by popular media, culture and probably just sheer search volume. And I imagined what the “wrecking ball” search might look like in a few years… would it still assume I had Miley on the mind, or would it change with the next new fad, leaving Miley bruised and battered (and nowhere to be found)?
In either case, it makes me wonder what Google was thinking, and if indeed all had gone to plan for Hummingbird. Time will tell I suppose.
Paul Kraemer, Director, Strategic Planning