I recently typed “why” into a Google search engine and, before continuing, paused to see the Google Autocomplete search results. This is what I saw:
Apparently, the most frequently asked questions typed into Google that start with “why” include queries about colors in the sky, sleep deprivation, and, ahem, the hotness factor of a particular religious people.
The search suggestions provided by Google are funny. They are also puzzling and equally fascinating. They are generated by the real questions people are asking.
Surely you are aware of the Autocomplete function: whenever you start to type into Google’s search bar (its “omnibox”), the world’s largest search engine will, like a helpful friend, provide you with suggestions for where you want to go. You only have to type in a single letter and a dropdown menu will start to populate with searches. Without having to think too hard, Google will tell you what you’re probably going to think next. This is a handy little tool: it helps you find what you’re looking for even if you don’t know how to spell something; it also makes coming up with the appropriate keywords less cumbersome. Plus, Google’s Autocomplete (its official name) can give you ideas (if I’m bored, I can type in “chocolate” and I get searches for cookies, frosting, zucchini bread, and cake, all of which sound enticing). Mostly, it’s cool because it saves our fingers from typing a few extra words.
But Autocomplete is a far more useful tool than just a lazy-man’s thinker. In fact, it’s practically magic. According to Google’s website, Autocomplete “predicts and displays queries to choose from. The search queries that you see…are a reflection of the search activity of all web users and the content of web pages indexed by Google.”
(Apparently, search activity across the globe suggests that wondering why “Mormons are so hot” is a pressing question.)
This is actually downright amazing (not the thing about Mormons’ good looks, but the fact that we can tell what people actually care enough about to type into a computer). Google’s Autocomplete, in essence, is taking a snapshot of the way people think. When I type in a question like “what should I do when my elbow hurts?” Google records my question. If enough people ask that same question, it begins populating the Autocomplete menus for people around the globe when they start to type “what sho…”
Still not getting how cool this is? Every time we type a word or phrase into the search box, we get to see what people all over the globe are thinking! So, try it. Type in “how do I” and you’ll see the most frequently asked questions around the globe that start with “how do I.” At the time I wrote this article, this is what that phrase generated:
While these results aren’t particularly astounding, they are a reflection of what people around the country are inquiring about. They give us a glimpse into the pulse of the American way of thinking. And, truthfully, it can be surprising what people frequently want to know (remember, these suggestions are generated from the most popular searches). Check out some of the crazy Google Autocomplete suggestions that showed up in a few of my quite normal search queries: