Google Linux search suggestions

Google Inc. continues to make incremental improvements to web search, and in this vein, Instant search was added in 2010. For better or worse, the accompanying search suggestions cannot be disabled. This drop down list is intended to save time, but it also gives some clues about what other people are searching for.

There’s something distinctly unscientific about the approach that I used to mine Google’s search suggestion data. I did use a fresh installation from within a VM, but Google may have begun to learn from what I’d searched for, influencing subsequent suggestions. I’ve also omitted some of the more mundane or irrelevant results.

What do the suggestions actually suggest? I’m not sure. The Google devs are their usual tight lipped selves about what the algorithm is. The only thing that is certain is that this is what Google’s algorithm thinks that people are likely to type in next.

The most obvious thing to search for is “Linux” (no quotes), and this produced suggestions of “mint”, “commands”, “find” and “distro”.

The first one surprised me a bit, as Mint is far from the most popular Linux distribution. Going a bit further and actually typing “mint”, produced “debian”, “vs Ubuntu”, “download”, “forums”, “9“ and “10“, all in line with what one would expect. Note that I was able to tickle more than four suggestions of out the search box by adding an extra space after the search terms in order to produce some alternatives. Where appropriate, adding an “s”, as a plural marker, also produced some extra results.

Find also puzzled me. It’s a fairly commonly used utility, but I was surprised that it was one of the four suggestions. I suspect that Google search adds in a random factor or takes into account current trends when serving up the suggestions. Sure enough, nine of the first ten results for this combination related to the command rather than the activity of finding out about Linux.

Following the distro branch also produced mostly expected results such as “comparison”, “chooser”, “list” and “comparison 2010“. I’ll bear the “chooser” keyword in mind in future for when optimising for SEO.

Typing Ubuntu produced no real surprises. Ever in search of controversy, I tried adding the term “problem” with a couple of small variations. This dug up “with nvidia”, “booting”, “suspend”, “with wireless”, “installing”, “with flash” and “flash Ubuntu problems”. Typing “ubuntu drivers” produced “for wireless”, “for wireless card”, “for dell” and “for hp”.

Getting a bit more specific, I tried “linux chrome”. The suggestions were “flash”, “java”, “pdf”, “plugins folder”. Once again, the results emphasised the importance of flash support to most users.

How about some Linux people? Searching for Mark Shuttleworth produced “blog”, “twitter”, “unity” and “girlfriend”. I have two suggestions for the last result. Firstly, in the past, Shutteworth has made a some interesting, but vague, comments about having lifestyle aspirations that challenge traditional, family-orientated life-goals for men. Secondly, he’s fairly young, he's successful and he’s traveled into space. No doubt, many a lonely she-geek must have wondered if he’s available. As expected, a search for my own name produced nothing of the sort.

Richard Stallman’s place in the history of open source software is assured, but he attracts supporters and critics in equal measure. Google suggests that people who are interested in him may consider tightening their search parameters by adding “is an idiot”, “xkcd”, “swords” or “quotes”. People want to see quotes from the great man, although some think he’s an idiot. I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to find the xkcd and “swords” connection.

Linus Torvalds? Yawn, yawn. “quotes”, “blog”, “C++” and “biography” are the suggestions. On the one hand, masses of people don’t search for evidence that he’s an idiot, but then, no one wants to know if he has a girlfriend. Them’s the breaks, Linus...

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