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What's Wacky with Google? 619

Posted by jamie
from the figure-it-out dept.
There are always going to be oddities with any big online service, but this one seems to be persisting. Join the discussion in trying to figure out a pattern. For maybe a week, Google has been returning zero results or "1-1 of about xxx,000" for common searches. One-word searches seem unaffected, but there are certain two-word combinations of common words like candle truck or speaker bracelet. Reversing the order can affect searches too: motorcycle candles vs. candles motorcycle. The strange thing is that usually the 1 or 2 results found are to commerce sites. Read the Search Basics, compare your notes to GoogleWhack's, have fun looking for patterns, but remember that Google always returns slightly different results for different IP numbers.

(Update: 13:56 GMT by J : When I first posted this story it said the problems have been occurring "for several weeks at least" -- but it seems to be more like one week.)

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What's Wacky with Google?

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  • Man! (Score:5, Funny)

    by jeffkjo1 (663413) on Monday October 06, 2003 @08:36AM (#7143076) Homepage
    I am so glad someone else noticed this!!! I've been so pissed I haven't been able to get any speaker bracelets recently. God google... forcing me to use other search engines to get my fix.
    • Re:Man! (Score:5, Funny)

      by TopShelf (92521) * on Monday October 06, 2003 @08:39AM (#7143095) Homepage Journal
      And I've been trying to get rid of several pallets full of candles I've got sitting around the house, but haven't been able to find a truck suitable for the job. I need to get these out into the market, since I went to all that trouble to install RFID tags on each one...
    • Re:Man! (Score:2, Funny)

      by iamthemoog (410374)
      and my candle truck business is filing for Chapter 11 any day now...

    • Re:Man! (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      But at least you can still get a truck bracelet [motorheadjewelry.com].
    • Re:Man! (Score:3, Funny)

      by kfg (145172)
      Ah, and I just thought they'd stopped making them or something.

      I need a new motorcycle candle. The old just keeps blowing out.

      KFG
    • Re:Man! (Score:3, Informative)

      by whereiswaldo (459052)
      Google's count of all pages that matches is just an approximation (obviously - they use the word "about"). I've noticed results with say 4 pages of results and when I click to the 4th, I get the same results as the 3rd page because there really *isn't* a next page.

      The results reported in this story are really bad, though - never seen anything like it myself! I'd have to guess that they're tweaking their algorithm and it's not handling some of the cases properly. No time to RTFA - gotta go! ;)
  • by LNO (180595) on Monday October 06, 2003 @08:37AM (#7143077)
    SkyNet is becoming self-aware.
  • Deja vu? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 06, 2003 @08:38AM (#7143088)
    It's just a glitch in The Matrix, of course.
  • ...of that point in time where people were trying to come up with two word searches that resulted in exactly one result.

    The company I was with at the time must have lost a few hundred man hours of productivity to THAT little fad.

    Xentax
    • by rudiger (35571)
      it was called googlewhacking [google.com].
  • by ejbst25 (130707) on Monday October 06, 2003 @08:39AM (#7143099) Homepage
    What possesses someone to try such weird random words in google. Thats the real trick...google wrote an engine to amuse the crazy users.
    • For even more fun, use the following script to generate two random words:

      (watch for word wrap)

      #!/bin/sh
      #
      dl=`wc -l /usr/share/dict/words`
      RND=`date '+%H%S%d%M'`
      RND1=`date '+%y%S'`
      RND=`expr $RND + $RND1`
      bilge=`expr $RND + $RND + $RND + $RND + $RND + $RND`
      dw1=`expr $RND % $dl`
      dw2=`expr $bilge % $dl`
      echo `sed -e ${dw1}p -e ${dw2}p -e d /usr/share/dict/words`

      So far, "pectoral undaunted", "adjudicates battlefield", "numerous quark" and "camouflaged todays" work as expected in google.
    • What possesses someone to try such weird random words in google. Thats the real trick...google wrote an engine to amuse the crazy users.

      ... and the crazy users wrote scripts to use the Google engine!

      (shameless self plug) Its surprising what sites can appear when querying Google. Try my site [mangle.ca] that queries Google with random words to find random webpages. Its quite powerful and a good timewaster.

  • by maan (21073) *
    Unless Google is purposely doing this (which I highly highly doubt), this is typically called a bug...

    If this is as widepsread as it seems to be, then it could be pretty bad. Testing for bugs is always difficult (and a pain), but I'm sure that testing new releases of the google search engine is very hard, especially for peculiar issues like this one.

    Anyway, that's my 5 centimes.

    Maan
  • Corporate entity (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Quasar1999 (520073) on Monday October 06, 2003 @08:41AM (#7143107) Journal
    That's why you can't trust google for anything critical. You are at their mercy, and if they choose to do biased, or screwed up searches, you either don't know, or can't do anything about it...

    I propose an opensource web based search engine... No more weirdness, no more screwups, no more censorship!
    • It's the hardware and bandwidth. As soon as an OC-3 is less than $8500/month I'll have one running to my house. Until then it's back to the drawing board.
      • what if such OSS search engine is massively distributed?
        Since by its nature search engine is not a transactional application, it can be effectively broken into thousands and thousands of semi independent pieces (just like real Google works now).
        Anyone aware of Distributed Open Source Powered-by-people search engine project?
    • I propose an opensource web based search engine...

      I know you were joking but my mind took me on a flight of fancy on how an opensource search engine would work.

      I'm thinking the only way you could do it economically (i.e. for free) would be to leverage a distributed computing client... use that p2p network that distributes documents throughout the network... and basically each document is an index for a particular word... use a random aggregate-avoiding algorithm to generate new indices, and run it on eve
  • by Karamchand (607798) on Monday October 06, 2003 @08:41AM (#7143109)
    I am sure the next Google Zeitgeist [google.com] will show numerous searches for candle truck or speaker bracelet in October 2003. And nobody at Google will have an explanation for this ;-)
  • by media_Assassin (176375) on Monday October 06, 2003 @08:41AM (#7143115)
    Check out this [google.com] - all 25 hits on the quoted words "candle truck" should be showing up in the non-quoted search ...
  • maybe (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SeXy_Red (550409) <Meviper85@[ ]mail.com ['hot' in gap]> on Monday October 06, 2003 @08:41AM (#7143117)
    Maybe it has something to do with the counter that was meantioned in a slashdot post earlyer today?
  • by Sabalon (1684) on Monday October 06, 2003 @08:41AM (#7143120)
    for a few weeks, when I do a search on google groups, it'll come back with the results just fine - but when I click on the View Thread on a result, it tells me it can't display the thread and gives me a link to view that individual message. Then once that message comes up, I click on View Thread on that message, and up pops the whole thread, like it should have before.

    Perhaps being on the top is getting to their CPU's :)
  • For further reference, see George Carlin.

    "As soon as I shove this hot poker..."
  • Google Whackiness (Score:5, Informative)

    by BJZQ8 (644168) on Monday October 06, 2003 @08:44AM (#7143144) Homepage Journal
    Has anyone else noticed that the "spam" sort of sites that are nothing but link farms and Gator popups are getting much better at finding their way into Google's rankings? I switched to Google back in the day after search engines like altavista became overrun with such sites. Now I've noticed that they occasionally creep into their rankings...I guess entropy is the way of the universe after all.
    • I think this is partly to do with the work they're trying on moving blogs back down the rankings, I've had higher rankings on some of my own sites than I expected recently.

      The link farms do get caught, I know a local company that got their own and several customers sites banned for everything except the specific names of the companies. Sometimes it takes a while, so if you see something that you think is a link farm, mail them about it or post it in the relevent Google newsgroup, apparently they do check t
    • by Doppler00 (534739)
      Yes, it's getting worse. Let's say you are trying to find a product review or even the official website of a digital camera. The odds are, the first 20 links Google gives will be advertised sites with no useful information on the camera. Result? You have to get more specific and even then it's a guessing game to find what you are looking for.
    • Re:Google Whackiness (Score:5, Informative)

      by Cpyder (57655) on Monday October 06, 2003 @09:27AM (#7143536) Journal
      I too am experiencing this more and more during the past few weeks (months?)..

      For example when searching for visual basic decompiler [google.com] the second to fourth results are 'spam sites'.

      I always report this kind of crap via the "Dissatisfied with your search results?"-link, but apparently nothing is done against this sites, which are getting more and more annoying.

      Time to switch? [teoma.com]

    • Gator and Zuvio (Score:5, Interesting)

      by YeOldeGnurd (14524) on Monday October 06, 2003 @09:39AM (#7143632) Homepage Journal
      I have run into some bizarre results lately. Recently I was trying to figure out what the NT 4 process "ESSERVER.EXE [google.com]" did, and google's top search result sent me to a page at (DON'T GO HERE!!!)MamuFilms.com [mamufilms.com] which actually redirects to "Armbender.com", a site that won't show you any pages unless you install "Page Access", actually Zuvio nastyware.

      Here's Googles somewhat hilarious cache [216.239.37.104] of the Mamufilms.com page. The page includes links for everything from "Peter Paul and Mary mp3" to "preteen bra images". The text is vaguely reminiscent of actual gramatical English. Here's one sentence:

      And With Unknown virtual gifts Already baby food coupons to Information Installed The 2000, with Himself, to other tips, tricks, and tweaks The Issue De Processes services.exe.
  • Big Red Candle Truck

    back up the candle truck

    The hardware store was forced to borrow a Colonial Candle truck

    Not wanting to kill anybody, we wait until
    the last two guys wander up to the candle truck.

    scented candle truck accessories

    yankee candle truck part
  • I realized the other day that although searching for 13 - 867 - 5309 [google.com] causes google to go into calculator mode, searching for 123 - 867 - 5309 [google.com] does not cause google to use calculator mode.

    All sorts of odd things will both pull up an answer from google's calculator and also do a search - for example, searching for avogadros number [google.com] or hbar [google.com].

    So why do searches that might fit US telephone conventions not trigger calculator? Is it because some design decision makes it impossible to trigger both calculator and their phone lookup service. (Yes kids, google is a reverse phone directory, albeit with old data)
  • by tom.allender (217176) on Monday October 06, 2003 @08:48AM (#7143175) Homepage
    "q=site:www.google.com google [google.com]" - (third result)

    This is what I'm seeing...
    http://www.sminkybang.com/google.png [sminkybang.com]
  • by jamie (78724) * <jamie@slashdot.org> on Monday October 06, 2003 @08:48AM (#7143177) Journal
    By the way, for info on Google's purchase of the search engine Kaltix, check this controversial Register piece [theregister.co.uk] by Andrew Orlowski. It contains the highly suspect, matter-of-fact comment that "PageRank is now widely acknowledged to be broken," but if you take the PageRank speculation with a grain of salt it's an interesting read.
  • It gave me 1-4 out of 123,000. Weird.
  • Canuck Ok (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Malicious (567158) on Monday October 06, 2003 @08:51AM (#7143201)
    For any who are interested, Google.ca is behaving correctly. All search results listed (that I've tried so far) from googlewack.com are working properly and returning 1-1 of 1, or displaying as they should.
    I wish I could compare to google.com, but for the past year or so, google.com automatically forwards all canadian IP's to google.ca
    • Re:Canuck Ok (Score:5, Informative)

      by puppet10 (84610) on Monday October 06, 2003 @09:05AM (#7143330)
      Put

      216.239.37.99 www.google.com

      In your hosts file to force it to resolve to the US google, or just type that in your browser.

      Alternately you can search google for the other googles and connect to them through google, for google japan, google australia, or google canada for example - or you can just hit the go to google.com link at the bottom of the google.ca page which links to http://www.google.com/ncr which I guess disables the country recognition and could be used as a bookmark as an alternative to modifying the hosts file.
  • Google Sellout? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I know personally when i've been searching google of late for things like home improvement how to's and the like such as bathtub refinishing it is linking to TONS of commercial sites selling products and service but hardly any online howto's or guides. Granted I realize maybe there just isn't much content for these topics but google seems to be selling out more and more to commercial links. I've also notice this although not nearly as much in looking for other things more and more and some of the searches
  • by daffmeister (602502) on Monday October 06, 2003 @08:51AM (#7143210) Homepage
    Does anybody else see the story change? I'm getting two different versions if I reload. One with the additional lines:

    "The order of words matters also, with motorcycle candle revealing different results to candle motorcycle."

    "Read the Search Basics, compare your notes to GoogleWhack's"

    and one without.

    Complete text of the two versions are:

    "There are always going to be oddities with any big online service, but this one seems to be persisting. Join the discussion in trying to figure out a pattern. For several weeks at least, Google has been returning zero results or "1-1 of about xxx,000" for common searches. One-word searches seem unaffected, but certain two-word combinations of common words like candle truck or speaker bracelet are affected. The strange thing is that usually the 1 or 2 results found are to commerce sites. Have fun looking for patterns but remember that Google always returns slightly different results for different IP numbers."

    and

    "There are always going to be oddities with any big online service, but this one seems to be persisting. Join the discussion in trying to figure out a pattern. For several weeks at least, Google has been returning zero results or "1-1 of about xxx,000" for common searches. One-word searches seem unaffected, but there are certain two-word combinations of common words like candle truck or speaker bracelet. Reversing the order can affect searches too: motorcycle candles vs. candles motorcycle. The strange thing is that usually the 1 or 2 results found are to commerce sites. Read the Search Basics, compare your notes to GoogleWhack's, have fun looking for patterns, but remember that Google always returns slightly different results for different IP numbers."

    Strange.
  • Of late, when you search for something in google groups, and click on "view thread", it often shows "Cannot display thread"... very annoying :(

    anyone else see this too?
  • COMMON searches? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Monday October 06, 2003 @08:52AM (#7143216)
    Ok, now I'm a guy who deals with audio equipment on a regular basis. This, of course, includes speakers. I have never, ever, heard of a speaker bracelet, and can't imagine why one would search for it.

    Now this isn't to say that these people havn't perhaps discovered an interesting bug in Google, but trying to play it as a conspiracy for "common" search terms is bullshit. The terms listed are things that no normal person would EVER search for. Hell, they are terms that even someone involved with one of the terms would never search for. Bracelets have nothing to do with speakers. If Google was truly trying to push advertisers, well, they'd be doing a shitty job of it since only geeks with too much time on their hands would discover such things.

    Give it a rest, the world is not out to get you. It's either a bug, or Google having some fun (something they are known to do). They are certinaly not trying to pimp a certian manufacturer of speaker bracelets, since such a thing is something that noone would know about, care about or want to own.

    For regular searches, Google continues to work great.
  • Simple. (Score:5, Funny)

    by toupsie (88295) on Monday October 06, 2003 @08:54AM (#7143236) Homepage
    It's broke. Just put a sign on it and someone call the super.
  • by D4MO (78537) on Monday October 06, 2003 @08:56AM (#7143248)
    Mwahhahahah!

    1. Register speakerbracelet.com

    2. Be the top 1 of 2 search results on google.

    3. ????

    4. Profit!
  • by martingunnarsson (590268) <martin&snarl-up,com> on Monday October 06, 2003 @08:56AM (#7143255) Homepage
    I've read that there's a real time search monitor in the lobby of Google's HQ. The nastiest words are removed, but other than that you can se exactly what people are searching for.
    They have to be pretty confused right now, when thousands of searches for speaker bracelets, motorcycle candles and candle trucks show up on the display!
  • stone dog quote (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mst76 (629405) on Monday October 06, 2003 @09:00AM (#7143283)
    searching google for stone dog quote returns no results. Also try stone cat quote or changing the order of the words for weird results. Queries on alltheweb or altavista return numerous results, as expected. This has been reported in threads in alt.usage.english, rec.puzzles and (of all places) alt.fan.tolkien.
  • speaker bracelet two (Score:5, Informative)

    by ballpoint (192660) on Monday October 06, 2003 @09:04AM (#7143318)
    Results 1 - 10 of about 27,300

    Weird. Very weird. Adding another word to a search should narrow down the result set, not widen it.

    Try [google.com] it.

    • by crail (633906) on Monday October 06, 2003 @12:10PM (#7144944)
      gm candle truck: Results 1 - 10 of about 12,100
      fiat candle truck: Results 1 - 10 of about 5,200
      audi candle truck: Results 1 - 10 of about 7,090
      chrysler candle truck: Results 1 - 10 of about 18,400
      ferrari candle truck: Results 1 - 10 of about 9,810
      ford candle truck: Your search - ford candle truck - did not match any documents.

      Looks like it's about time ford got on the candle truck bandwagon.
  • by caffeinex36 (608768) on Monday October 06, 2003 @09:08AM (#7143354)
    .....in the Matrix? Have we found it?
  • by Kieckerjan (38971) on Monday October 06, 2003 @09:12AM (#7143386)
    Obviously, Google has to do a lot of acrobatics to keep its service as fast as possible. One of the things it does is distributing its database over a lot of servers. There is no way that they can dynamically sift through hundreds of millions of pages for each common word, so they obviously just look at the top pages for each word. Which pages are top is probably determined by pagerank or something similar.

    When you do this, there is no guarantee that you will get hits for every single combination of words out there. However, it may very well be possible to calculate the probability of relevant results not showing up and using this measure to make a more or less optimal trade-off between response time and user satisfaction.

    When you start tweaking this trade-off, certain queries are bound to get screwed up. It probably takes them some time to notice this behavior, gather statistics and re-tweak their formula.

    Another thing that crossed my mind recently is that they might be using precooked phrases or word collocations instead of single words. This makes sense since they use an implicit AND operator, it improves statistics and words are often strongly correlated anyway so your vocabulary probably wouldn't swell as much as you'd expect.

    Mind you, this is pure speculation. I don't have any intimate knowledge about Google's inner workings.
  • by arcanumas (646807) on Monday October 06, 2003 @09:12AM (#7143389) Homepage
    Maybe they are doing testing to ensure the service will be in the usual Microsoft standards in case they are bought.
  • Another example (Score:3, Informative)

    by danila (69889) on Monday October 06, 2003 @09:14AM (#7143409) Homepage
    A few days ago I searched for "kazaa lite [google.com]" on Google and found that no results are censored! The main KaZaA Lite page was the 1st result. That was only temporarily, of course, because right now the search is still censored.
  • by MongooseCN (139203) on Monday October 06, 2003 @09:19AM (#7143447) Homepage
    I used to use motorcycle candles but later found that an electric headlight is much brighter and doesn't blow out when I move.
  • by clambake (37702) on Monday October 06, 2003 @09:34AM (#7143589) Homepage
    Man, no wonder... You need to turn Safe Search OFF when you look up nasty stuff like that.
  • Not a week . . . (Score:3, Informative)

    by d-e-w (173678) on Monday October 06, 2003 @10:18AM (#7143965)
    (Update: 13:56 GMT by J: When I first posted this story it said the problems have been occurring "for several weeks at least" -- but it seems to be more like one week.)

    Actually, I've been seeing this problem occasionally for over a year. It just seems that larger numbers of search terms trigger it now.

    Of course, I can't remember any of the search terms that have triggered it in the past--I've just learned to change my terms slightly to get around the problem.

    Dee
  • by gone.fishing (213219) on Monday October 06, 2003 @10:40AM (#7144114) Journal
    Google searches use unique and proprietary algorithms to find the most useful information for the search terms. We all know this, it is their "page rank" system. But perhaps the page rank system is driven by more modifiers than we are aware of. For instance, In Minnesota, Twins and Vikings mean a couple of sports teams, in Norway, they probably mean something entirely different so perhaps "Page Rank" does some regionalization. In the same vein, it may be possible that if I refine my search from Minnesota by adding the word "Gopher" to the Twins and Vikings, I may get more, rather than fewer results while perhaps in Norway I'd get no results!

    In addition to possibly regionalizing searches, perhaps Google's servers are not updated with the latest code at the same time. Maybe the code is distributed over time to servers so that if a problem were discovered it could be more easily rolled back. It is possible that the load balancing on these servers uses some component of the IP address or somehow regionalizes the incomming requests so that it is likely that the same user usually gets to server A but sometimes goes to server B while their co-surfer neighbor usually goes to server B but sometimes goes to server C. Meanwhile, a couple of states away, another user usually connects to server W but sometimes connects to server X. This could explain why they usually but not always get the same results but someone else gets different results.
  • by Scutter (18425) on Monday October 06, 2003 @11:00AM (#7144288) Journal
    The pigeons [google.com] are getting tired.
  • Real information (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fozzylyon (696418) on Monday October 06, 2003 @11:12AM (#7144375)
    I spoke with a friend who helps maintain the google engine. She said that they were running into some problems with a "cleaning agent." Because of all the sites taking advantage of the word revelancy, there are useless sites that simply have a list of words or phrases. It's been posted before that there are many pages designed for GATOR/GAIN spreading or other spyware/adware. She quoted the percentage of junk pages being at 35% to 40%. The cleaning agent was supposed to run through its own searches and check for junk and keep a log.


    She didn't say if the problem was that the cleaning agent was clogging searches or if any logged junk pages had been blocked. If so maybe the agent is flawed. In any case, they've stopped using it for the time being.
  • by Everyman (197621) on Monday October 06, 2003 @11:46AM (#7144674) Homepage
    The counts have been broken for the last five weeks. A count for the word "the" produced fairly consistent results until then of about 3.4 billion. Then it shifted five weeks ago to 5.2 billion. Lately it has been under 2 billion. Now it's just over 2 billion.

    Webmasters who have various directories and know exactly how many pages are in each directory, began noticing five weeks ago that Google was reporting approximately twice the number of pages in each directory than have ever existed in that directory. Prior to five weeks ago, Google used to be fairly close to the actual number (assuming that you get a full crawl).

    GoogleWatch speculates on the reason why Google has been behaving strangely ever since it stopped doing the traditional deep crawl once per month. The last standard deep crawl was in April but it wasn't used -- Google threw out this data (by their own admission) and reverted to earlier data. The speculative piece [google-watch.org] was written last June.

    Since it was written, Google has started showing "supplemental results" on many searches. It looks like they are running a parallel index. Why would they do this? All the problems Google has been having, along with the supplemental index, seem to support GoogleWatch's theory.
    • GoogleWatch speculates ... The speculative piece was written last June.
      You wrote that piece, correct? It's very poor form not to mention that fact.

      Aside from that your piece is interesting, but it does come across as a bit inflamatory. Just present your facts and conclusions and forget about the conspiracy theories and sarcasm. You'll have a lot more success convincing people if you don't appear to have an axe to grind.

  • by Digital_Quartz (75366) on Monday October 06, 2003 @12:21PM (#7145052) Homepage
    Duplicating search terms has an interesting result:

    candle truck
    1-1 of about 101,000

    candle candle truck truck
    1-1 of about 82,200

    candle candle candle truck truck truck
    1-1 of about 73,700

    candle candle candle candle truck truck truck truck
    1-1 of about 68,600

    Another interesting one is

    candle candle truck
    1-2 of about 89,200

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