January 16, 2012
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Google FTW, Google Fail

It’s remarkable how good Google is, and it’s frightening how bad it is becoming.

First, the good. In 1949, my mother Patsy Starrels went to Europe, and she kept a slender journal of her post-college adventure. I thought it might be fun to edit it. (Yes, another project; yes, I should know better; yes.) Google is an assistant of astonishing power.

On July 15, Mom embarked (Tourist Class, Deck D, cabin 135) on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth. As one does on ships, she dined at a table of ten, and she meets people on deck.

Met a girl from France who has been working as a translator for the U.N. and a boy who has been doing graduate work in dentistry at Northwestern—Barry Carolan, an Australian no less. Didn’t know they had anything but kangaroos in Australia.

Two days later, she records that she “found out all about Australia. Barry has never seen a kangaroo outside a zoo. Very disillusioning.”

A chance meeting or two on a very large ship, lost to time. If my mother remembered things (which she doesn’t anymore), I doubt she’d remember it. But Google finds Barry Carolan, a dentist in Castlecrag, New South Wales. Castlecrag, Google is happy to explain, is in North Sydney. In fact, I think I’ve been near there, visiting user interface expert Julianne Chatelaine. Small world.

This happens again and again; if Patsy mentions someone, there’s a good chance that Google can tell you who they are. Not always — especially with young women, who in those days changed their names after marriage — but often. There’s more, too: I easily found many pictures of the ship (though none, yet, of an inside cabin on D deck), printed dining room menus the same season, and eBay vendors selling stationery from the staterooms. All available to a casual researcher, at home on a Sunday morning.

In American football, a team that is out of downs may kick or “punt” the ball to the opposition. Technically, they can punt on any down. This is called a “quick quick” and is meant to surprise the opponents. It is bound to be a surprise, because it is never done; I think the last quick kick I saw was in sixth grade.

The New England Patriots executed one this weekend in a playoff game against the Denver Broncos. Naturally, I wondered: why would they do this? Also, “What were they thinking?” and “What do people who know a lot more about football than I do think about it?” Patriot coach Bill Belichik is often quite good at recognizing unconventional plays that defy common wisdom but nonetheless prove to be a good idea. (Yes, going for it on 4th-and-two against the 2009 Colts was the right move.)

So, let’s turn to Google and try "Brady quick kick." We find:

It looks to me that search results 21-30 are all SEO link farms.

Dear blogosphere: in the most-watched playoff game ever, the controversial Pats execute a play that most fans have never seen since high school. Some players who never attempted this play include Peyton Manning, Joe Montana, Steve Young, Fran Tarkenton, Johny Unitas, and Paul Hornung. George Blanda might have run it a couple of times. Randall Cunningham apparently did it. But face it, it’s almost as rare as a drop-kick.

I’m sure there are people who blog about football, and I bet every one of them was surprised by this play, and that some of them wrote about it.

But there’s no space for that in Google: we’re too busy selling ads on SEO sites and link farms.