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I'm writing something over at MyMySpaceSpaceBlogBlog, and couldn't think of a word: you know, that illustrator, who drew designs for machines that used everyday objects in strange ways to accomplish simple tasks. Yes, I now know it's Rube Goldberg, but rather than taking the time to ask someone, I went to Google.

Watching that cursor flash in the text box, waiting for me to type in my search request, I was unsure how to describe what I was looking for. Rube Goldberg machines are inherently visual, and do not lend themselves to textual search. So, I have to think of search words that someone else would have used to describe Rube Goldberg (without knowing his name), and would mean anything to Google to separate it from other machines.

Here's what I tried, and how long it took me to find it in the first page of results:

machine unusual assembled ordinary objects
machine unusual assembled everyday objects
machine unusual everyday objects
machine assembled everyday objects
machine assembled everyday humor
machine assembled everyday comic
machine assembled ordinary comic
machine ordinary art shoe kick
machine funny shoe ordinary
machine funny ordinary items
machine comic ordinary items
system comic ordinary items
machine complex useless

In that last search, the name I was looking for was in result #5. Google Image Search was far worse -- none of the searches above came even close to Rube Goldberg (only two had any results at all). None of the Google results I got point to Rube Goldberg's webpage, nor his Wikipedia page.

Back in the day, I used to check my referrer logs and see a lot of searches for things like "my wife has a hurt foot and cant walk how does she get rid of a planters wart" -- which, of course, lead them to a site that has nothing about wives' hurt feet nor plantar's warts. Most people have learned to shrink their search query to relevant words only, which demonstrates that search engines aren't getting better at understanding language -- they've gotten us to adjust our language when speaking to them. One may also note that the longer my searches were, the less accurate they were.

However, search engines might be great for words, but seriously suck when it comes to visual information. Tagging might be a solution, but not until taggers start using descriptive tags, rather than summarizing tags -- none of the searches above get me "Rube Goldberg" in Flickr, when a search for "Rube Goldberg" has 333 results. Let's say you can't remember the name of the Mona Lisa, DaVinci, or the era it was painted -- how do you get a search engine to show it to you? "Smiling Woman Painting" as a GIS search has her on the first page, but not in the regular Google search. We're limited to what a person has written about the painting -- and if "smiling woman painting" is too obscure of a way to find the Mona Lisa without knowing any proper nouns, then image searching is severely lacking.

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