Global Village Idiot: Which Search Engine Algorithms Get Wrong or Wrong About Your Queries

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The other day I wanted to read what the British papers had to say about the India-England test match. I asked google, then asked again, and guess what? The first two pages of search results gave me links to Indian media reports. I modified the search to include “British Media” and then got a few relevant links.

Every day I read three national English language newspapers (physical copy). I also read a daily newspaper in Marathi and scan an online financial newspaper. So you could say that I have a reasonably well balanced national and regional perspective on news. When it is necessary to have a global perspective, I search online for the opinions of the international media – in this case the British media since this was a test match with England.

Sports channel coverage already gives me international perspectives on cricket – it’s fantastic to listen to Sunil Gavaskar, Shaun Pollock, Michael Holding, Sanjay Manjrekar and Harsha Bhogle.

But, I didn’t get the search results I wanted until I specifically searched for UK newspapers by name. I started to wonder if Google had decided that I should read Indian media news only.

Which would mean I would have the dubious benefit of not having access to the world on my phone while living in an age where technology can give me access to hundreds of global media links every second.

I changed my default search engine to Yahoo and: The first page was full of links to Yahoo News and Yahoo Cricket News. No real media in the first search results!

When I changed the query to include ‘UK Media’ it finally gave me some relevant links. Bing as the default engine provided similar results to Yahoo.

So I went back to Google and tried the exercise with other queries. Giant panda. Lasagna. Biryani. Dubai Biryani. English Premier League. Giant panda and lasagna aside, it was a frustrating exercise. (Earlier this week I researched Afghanistan as the situation quickly evolved there and got links to media outlets based in India, although what I wanted was reports on Afghanistan ).

So when it comes to news, search engines seem to prioritize location media and among them there seems to be some sort of additional prioritization.

If I want to read English Premier League news, stats and match reports, I would expect the search results to provide links to English media sites (like in England). I wouldn’t expect links to Indian media; just as I don’t expect links to European or American media opinions if I ask “Indian Hockey”.

The source of my annoyance was the expertise and the plurality / diversity of points of view. Why was I suddenly getting local / regional results first?

I queried “Google Search Results” and then started reading the search documentation… it’s fascinating and pretty transparent.

To quote some of the documentation from Google:

“To give you the most useful information, search algorithms look at many factors, including your query words, page relevance and usability, source expertise, and your location and settings. The weight applied to each factor will vary depending on the nature of your query – for example, freshness of content plays a more important role in answers to questions on hot topics than in dictionary definitions.

The expertise of the sources is an important factor, but also the location, which seems to take precedence. Why am I spending so much time reading the documentation? Because something has changed in my online search experience and I don’t have access to more than one side of an event. I read match reports in the local media, but I also want to take advantage of test match reports written by someone who understands Test Cricket, knows the players and knows how to value the importance of each round. Like Mike Atherton, a great cricketer and sports writer. Like Jonathan Liew, a well-decorated sports journalist who has this incredible knack for getting in the game. (Liew’s pragmatic and ironic build-up of Pujara’s 45s on day 3 of the second test was just great).

What I am saying is that I would like reports on UN events from UN sources and European news from European sources and Singapore technology news from Singapore technology sources etc. in more from the local perspective on these reports.

If technology platforms make it difficult for me to achieve a wider range of results beyond location, especially for news and information from elsewhere, I risk developing a one-dimensional perspective of the world. based on a regime of non-information from non-source experts.

So it stands to reason that elsewhere in the world people from other nations are watching Indian and Indian events and Indian news from a similar one-dimensional regime of non-Indian news sources. There is something wrong with such geographic prioritization of news and information, as it widens the chasm between people and nations. But that’s for another day.

For now, I will be enjoying the victory of the Indian cricket team over England in the second test. What a fierce and scintillating match!


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