Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Bubble Basics


People don’t realize they’re being bubbled. You can’t know what you’re missing if you never see it. I know I didn’t see it when I first encountered it. Then I did. Here’s the story.

To start, I learned you can’t test your website’s responses unless you do so on someone else’s computer. Otherwise, you’re not getting your pages over the Internet but from caches on your machine. Can you clear out all of them (including the OS)?

In fact, I saw Comcast’s web salespeople demonstrating its “speed” from inside their offices. These demo machines were in the back room next the huge hard disk servers caching the very Internet pages they claimed to be demonstrating.

The demonstrations didn’t use the Internet at all! The machines were on the same network as those servers. The only “speed” they showed was the ethernet speed of their local network.

Later, I experienced the Bubble Effect when I was looking up my Internet presence on someone else’s machine. The results were totally different from the same search on my machine.

Initially, I was startled. Where did I go? At home, I was ten of the first dozen hits. On another machine, I was lucky to be in the first dozen. I was baffled. (Remember, this was a long time ago.)

Then I realized the search engines (and browsers) knew when I was using my machine to look for me. Since it returned different answers based on that one fact, then what else was different when I looked at the Internet on someone else’s machine?

The other thing I learned about Internet searches when I was looking for my name (Lee Frank) is how stupid the search was. No, really. I could find no way (you might think quotes, but no) to skip over hits like “Lee, Frank”. As in “Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra”.

Clearly, the search engine (Google at that time—a long time ago) treated commas as irrelevant. As I’m sure it considered any other non-alphabetic characters. But that wasn’t all.

In addition, searches returned many more hits for “Lee, Frank”—people whose first name was Frank—than it did for “Lee Frank”. For me this was, as we used to say, bass-ackwards.

When I’m looking for “Lee Frank” (delineated by quote marks), I don’t mean “Lee * Frank” (where * is any non-alpha character). This really messes up a simple target. Even now, testing Google’s search gives me “Frank and Kathie Lee Gifford”!

With returns like this, I don’t care how fast a search is or how many hits it thinks it’s found. Maybe you do. Many people must, because Google is bigger than ever. It’s even the verb for search.

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