Google’s precision is getting worse

… or maybe this is not a recent change at all, I don’t really know.

Long ago I blogged before about the ways Google misunderstands me, and nothing has changed on that particular count. Today I noticed that there’s a new way Google intentionally misinterprets my query. Weird.

So, I was searching for Comparer (try it yourself). Right at the top of the page, Google says this:

Showing results for Icomparer. Search instead for Comparer

Brilliant, eh? I’m starting to think it would be good if Google could have a programmer’s mode or something. Actually, just call it a “accept my queries as they are please, I now what I’m doing” mode. I can’t even guess why it’s doing this thing with Comparer<T> — once I click that link in the prompt, there are several results with that precise string in the page title. The URL changes to this, btw:

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&amp;q=Comparer%3CT%3E&amp;nfpr=1

That nfpr parameter seems to make all the difference.

So maybe bing doesn’t have that problem? No, it doesn’t. But then it doesn’t try to suggest anything on that search string either, so I guess somebody could call this a missing feature instead. Oh, and bing doesn’t solve that old problem with “special” characters either — they seem to have established a special case for the term “.NET” (surprise surprise), but searching for something like “.text” or even for help on regexes with “.+?” fails just as miserably as ever.

9 Comments on Google’s precision is getting worse

  1. GooglesBitch // March 12, 2010 at 10:03 am // Reply

    Dude, you’re so on about google’s searches getting fuzzier & fuzzier (and crappier) – I noticed it maybe first 6-12 mos ago, and then just today got caught with exactly your described scenario: I discovered parm ‘nfpr’ was the fix, and then you came up on my subsequent google about this parameter.

    A while back I noticed that my search terms wouldn’t necessarily appear in the resultant links and thus I started to find myself re-searching but prefixing ‘+’ to my terms to force inclusion on (almost) every resultant link. Argh!

    However this ‘nfpr’ setting will be fairly easy for me to workaround and to implement as a default for my google searches since 98% of my searching is done from the Location bar using a ‘keyword’/shortcut/bookmark (I use FireFox) and so I can include this parm in all those searches. My updated URL is thus:
    http://www.google.com/search?as_q=%s&filter=1&as_ft=i&as_filetype=&num=50&nfpr=1

    So spot on mate, good eye there catching this – IMO this is parm is a *recent* addition to google. : (

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  2. Well, unfortunately the nfpr parameter doesn’t fix my earlier problems. If you search for “.NET”, you will find lots of actual .NET references these days, but if you look closely, you can see that Google doesn’t actually highlight the “.NET” string in the search results (I’m talking about the part that’s formatted bold), it only highlights “NET”. So this is a chance result that works due to the fact that many of the highest score hits for NET these days are about .NET.

    Back when I first found the problem, I was searching for .Text, and that example still works today. If you search for .text on its own, the results all have the word “text” in the title (even though there are results that are really about .text, try searching for “.text blog software” for instance). Using the nfpr parameter with this query doesn’t make any difference whatsoever.

    So — for years now I’ve been wondering what’s so hard about having a parameter that says “treat this string as a literal”. I’ve still not found an answer, and they’ve still not fixed that problem.

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  3. GooglesBitch // March 15, 2010 at 6:56 am // Reply

    Mate, for now you’re hooped on the desire to have punctuation recognized – it seems to be de rigueur for search engines to treat punctuation as whitespace, period (and pun).

    (BTW I never suggested that nfpr helped your .Text searching, just that its omission permitted google to excessively fuzzify my search query – having made the same discovery as yourself about that parameter.)

    Do note that ‘google code’ does support regex searching: http://www.google.com/help/faq_codesearch.html#regexp so you might get lucky if your “.Text” is coding related.

    And maybe the regex for google code suggests they may eventually implement such searching for the whole of google, but for now it’s a no go.

    PS: Your problematic search for:
    Comparer<t>
    seems to be remedied by enclosing your query in quotes:
    “Comparer<t>”

    PPS: Your own blog wouldn’t let me enter your “Comparer<t>” text verbatim, complaining about an “illegal tag” – I had to ‘HTML’ize’ the greater-than and less-than signs by using &lt; and &gt; … oh, the irony ; )

    HTH.

    Like

  4. How brilliant is it that your own post says, “accept my queries as they are please, I now what I’m doing”…

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  5. Hello,
    I don’t think that google’s precision is getting worse. Instead, since Google Instant I sow some improvement.

    Anyway, this is just my opinion.

    Have a nice day.

    Like

  6. yes, he made a spelling mistake, and typed “now” instead of “know”.
    But i agree completely.
    It should be a configurable feature.
    Besides this, I quite like “instant”.
    But this automatic changing of my query is unacceptable, and very annoying. And if it is not fixed, I shall switch …. (or at least, will want to).

    Like

  7. I have been annoyed by this for ages and when Google began second-guessing me, I even wrote to them. To no avail. Apparently a lot of their searches are misspelled.

    I’ve found that putting a plus sign in front of the word will force it to use what you have written, though the fact that I don’t need to do that for, say, Duck Duck Go, makes a Google search now far less practical.

    The results themselves also seem less precise or more biased, depending on your point of view. There just seems to be less reason to use Google as a search engine today.

    Like

  8. Just for the record, putting a plus sign in front of words doesn’t work. You still regularly get “Showing results for +WhateverTheHellGoogleWantsToPushOnYouInsteadOfWhatYouAskedFor”, instead of just showing you what the hell you actually asked for. Searching for technical terms has become impossible these days, which is why I stick to Bing. Using Google to search for technical topics is impossible, owing to the arrogance of their designers (who think they know better than users what it is users want to search for), and the greed of their marketing people (who aren’t dumb enough to believe they know better, but nonetheless believe Google makes far more money out of providing results supplied by paying advertisers than actually returning the results people asked for).

    Ask.Com and infoseek pulled the same crap back in the late nineties – pushing short-term lucrative results to their users instead of results they were actually interested in seeing. In my opinion, as soon as some other search engine gets their act together sufficiently, loses all the tacky gimmicks, instant-second guessing features, and crap animated logos that Google has replaced their once-valuable service with, and actually starts providing the service that Google used to, Google will end up in the search engine dustbin just like those earlier companies that put the aspirations of their paying advertisers before the needs of their end users.

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  9. Hi. Yes I’m having this problem as well and haven’t found Google fix for it yet. I did some research of the major search engines for the search .theme or “.theme” and came up with this:

    Searches with fuzzy loose matches for all searches:

    Ask.com, Bing.com, Google,
    Dogpile, Exalead, Lycos, Altavista, Metacrawler, mojeek, iboogie, zapmeta, mooler, metasearchengine.com, mamma, pandia, kartoo, allplus

    Others:

    duckduckgo.com: No results for “.theme” but .theme produced results without punctuation for non-quoted search.

    ixquick (my usual search engine): No results for “.theme” but .theme produced results without punctuation for non-quoted search.

    searchengine.com: Down, server error when checking.

    I have a theory why this might be. I know that having a huge index forces google to have more servers and costs them more money to run. So they only add certain searches to the index. There could be other cost savings to by taking out the details in searches in this way.

    Also searches engines using a process called stemming to match say theme theming themes to your search so this could be to blame for the fuzzy results. But it’s like asking a butcher for 1lb of chuck stake and him just giving you random quantities of mince beef and some chicken.

    Personally I’m looking forward to the good times of RDF metadata where we get true independence from search engines if we want it.

    Like

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