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Fun with search engines

By Jean-Claude Elias - Jan 24,2013 - Last updated at Jan 24,2013

Get off the Internet’s beaten path and stop looking for today’s weather report, the name of the capital city of Myanmar, who got the Oscar for best movie this year, or the phone number of your long lost friend in Australia or in Brazil. There’s more fun out there.

Whereas web-based search engines like Google, (also Bing, Yahoo, Blekko…) are here to return useful information, in the blink of an eye naturally, they can also be source for fun. Google in particular with its predictive text input can be used to test, explore and simply enjoy unexpected results, not necessarily of the useful type. Think of it like a game.

The game actually is an interesting one, for it also lets you better understand how these extraordinarily powerful search systems work or “think”. By providing information based on the very few words it also shows you what most people look for.

For instance, using Google, just type “when” and watch. You can instantly see that the first four results returned are: “When is Easter 2103”, “when to work”, “when is thanksgiving” and “when will the world end”. So this is what people are worried about, and in that order! This is true at least at the very moment you used the search. Isn’t it some kind of amazing statistics too?

Change “when” to “when will” and you get “when will the world end” (again), the rather existential “when will my life begin”, followed by the more down-to-earth “when will nexus 4 be available” (ah, smartphones…) and again back to an existential one: “When will I die”.

I played the game myself, and for being not superstitious at all, I clicked that last one (“when will I die”) a bit further. I checked the page it pointed to, namely The Death Clock, a site that claims it can predict that day, based on personal info you would feed it with. So I entered my personal data, curious to see what would be the day when I die.

I got the funniest possible result. It said had already died on July 9, 2007. The pop up screen added “I am sorry but your time has expired. Have a nice day. RIP”.

Entering “how” will return “how I met your mother” and “how to tie a tie”…

The first or the few words you would type do not have to be a question, like when, how, etc… Simple words would do. If I type my first name, Jean-Claude, Google flatters me by showing that the most searched topic based on this name is Jean-Claude Van Damme, Mr Muscles from Brussels himself.

It’s a window wide open on one’s imagination. Think out of the box and type one, two or at most three words and watch the system work. No need to have coherence between the words — it adds to the fun. “Free desert” for example will lead you to “free desert clipart” and to “free dessert recipes” as well.

The mathematics and the computing algorithms behind the Internet’s most powerful search engines are some of the most advanced in the world of science today. Using them for valuable, useful information is mainly what they are here for. Using them also in a purely entertaining manner is perfectly legitimate and broadens the scope. After all it’s good edutainment in the end. Enter “edutainment” in Google.

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