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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Google’s Synonym for Scientology: "Cult"

Just yesterday I posted on the Googlebomb (if it’s one) that when you enter dangerous cult into Google, Scientology* pops up as first result. Well, there’s more: if you enter ~scientology into Google, you’re triggering a search for synonyms as well due to the tilde character. Now what happens is that Google, in bold, highlights all those words it considers synonyms of “Scientology"**. The following two words appear right on the first results page: “cult”... and “Travolta”.

(Now, while probably only Google employees know how the synonyms algorithm works, we have reason to believe it’s build to scale, i.e. it is fully automated based on e.g. data crawled from the web... and not determined by editors. In other words, it may be more related to the way the web at large discusses Scientology, and which words people use around the subject.)

On that note, here’s a small trick if you want to know what Google considers synonymous for a given word. Say the word you want to give a try is “love”, then use the following query ...

~love -love

... which results in “loves”, “compatibility”, “lovely”, “romantic” and “marriage”. (You can also go ahead and exclude more to find more, like ~love -love -compatibility -romantic and so on.)

*The same group who sent this letter to Google some years ago.

**However, even though Google calls this the synonyms operator on their help page, it’s often more of a “related words” operator.

[Thanks Simon!]


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