Search is hard

Do a Google image search on 1964. It’ll find more than 700,000 images for you. If you had to guess, which ones would come up first? The Beatles? Jackie Kennedy?

Actually, on the very first page of the results, you’ll find a flyer for a pinball machine from and an issue of Soaring magazine. You’ll also find similar results if you type in other years.

Google isn’t doing a bad job necessarily. It’s just that this is an impossible promise to keep. We’ve taught ourselves that search engines are magical and clairvoyant, and that 1964 is all we have to type in to find, say, the best possible image for a collage for a birthday party. But my collage is very different in intent than your collage, and of course Google can’t make us both happy.

If you’ve got a website and you offer search, you need to be wary of overpromising. Just like putting an index in a reference book that isn’t totally complete. If you appear to be making the promise, your prospect is going to expect that you’re going to keep it.

Soaring magazine, anyone?

I think it’s inevitable that many users are going to become cynical about the power of search as this problem gets worse (and I think it will) before it gets better.