‘Google, You Autocomplete Me’
What do web users want to know about the city of Boston?
Why is Boston so boring? Why is Boston so windy? Why is Boston so humid? These are all, apparently, questions that people are asking the Google search engine of our city.
Google’s autocomplete feature, which offers you a string of suggested searches based on the first few words you’ve typed into the bar, makes a useful tool for crowdsourcing the conventional wisdom. As Google notes, “all of the predicted queries that are shown in the drop-down list have been typed previously by Google users or appear on the web.” Google’s recommendations obey an algorithm that draws, in part, on the searches of other web users. The questions are occasionally obvious (“Why is Boston so humid?” doesn’t seem like a question Google can resolve for you, but it’s no wonder people are asking.) And occasionally strange. (“Why is Boston so windy?” Wait, it is?)
Autocomplete offers a pseud0-scientific way to answer any number of questions about popular opinion. What do people want to know about the presidential candidates? (Mostly whether they are gay.) What do people think of Anderson Cooper? (“Hot,” “pale,” “popular,” and “famous.”) This week, Atlantic Cities reader Nate Shivar shared with that website his investigation into the opinions Googlers have of 50 major American cities by typing in the query “Why is [city] so…” and cataloguing the suggested searches. The beauty of “Why is Boston so …” as a question, is that it presupposes that Boston is so … whatever it is the asker wants to know. When he ran the search, he found people asking, “Why is Boston so racist?” “Why is Boston so expensive?” “Why is Boston so Irish?” And “Why is Boston so expensive to live?” (Our results don’t match up exactly with his whether because of our search history or the passage of time.) If that leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, just be glad you’re not Tampa, a city for which Google has little love.
You should check out the article on his findings for a sense of the stereotypes and impressions people tend to carry with them about other cities. It had us wondering whether you could zoom in even further. What does Google ask about the various neighborhoods? Usually there isn’t enough search traffic on something like, “Why is Southie so …” to garner results. But the communities surrounding Boston elicit opinions of their own:
And then there are things like T lines, for which there seems to be a consensus … The Green Line: