Watching the Google auto-complete algorithm at work from a hill in Tuscany
Last week I went to a wedding in Italy — and I got to watch the Google Auto-Complete algorithm at work. (I think it did anyway and as a product/design/brand guy I welcome corrections from the more technical).
The wedding was a 4 day affair and we were way out in the country with no cell reception. There were about 100 people there and anyone who wanted to get online had to share a single wifi signal connected to a very small pipe.
Frustrating, but cool to see Google learn in real-time. I got to start with a blank slate of search queries on a specific topic from the given IP address and the broader location. I was part of a burst of searches for a person and over the course of 2 days the auto-complete suggestions and search results changed/improved dramatically.
As you type, Google’s algorithm predicts and displays search queries based on other users’ search activities and the contents of web pages indexed by Google.
Like most weddings, we all knew each other, but a few had brought +1’s that no one had met before and there was a specific +1 who everyone was curious about. He didn’t talk much, appeared to be a little older than everyone there, but was rumored to be younger, wiser and way more successful than the rest of us. Nothing will get a group of MBA’s to reach into the internet for facts faster than the suggestion that they are being out-performed.
I was one of the first people to meet this +1 and I didn’t catch his last name, but we talked about where he worked (we have a mutual friend who works there as well) and which city he worked in. I searched his first name, the firm name (Big Bank) and city (New York) — and had to type in the whole thing. No individual profiles/team page at his job, too many results on LinkedIn to parse through and a bunch of useless news articles and SEC filings with keywords matching his first name and his firm’s name.
Damn. Moving on to dinner, drinks and everyone got a chance to meet everyone else. Later that night a few people asked me, “Who is that guy?” — I didn’t know and neither did Google.
The next day I was sitting at lunch with him and overheard him introduce himself to someone else. First name Joe (not really, but equally common and for simplicity let’s say his full name is Joe Smith from here on). I pulled out my iPhone and typed Joe — and the auto-complete offered up Joe Smith, Joe Smith BigBank, Joe Smith Managing Director, Joe Smith BigBank Managing Director.Wow — that is way better than last night.
The results for my search were now his LinkedIn page, news articles with quotes and coverage of transactions he had worked on as well as speaking engagements where he had been or was scheduled to be presenting.
Overnight, totally different auto-complete suggestions and search results that were much closer to what I was looking for the night before.
Curious, I started asking people “who is that guy?” and they all knew — “How do you know that?” — “I googled him — it just came up”