Sunday, October 17, 2004

Google searches your own computer: powerful, and perhaps scary

I've been playing with the new Google desktop search since it was announced last week. Already it's annoying me a bit. For instance, Michigan State clobbered Minnesota in football so thoroughly yesterday that I wanted to see how the Minnesota press was reacting. So I Googled to find the main Minneapolis newspaper, the Star-Tribune. The hit list surprised me:

Whoa! Wait a minute! Why do I see anything on my own computer about the Star-Tribune? I haven't said anything about the Star Tribune, or even read anything they published, for months.

The idea of Google Desktop is simple and powerful -- and not new, AltaVista released a desktop search years ago. One of the great ironies of the Google era is it's easier to find a document on the Web than on your own hard drive, given the poor tools Windows has built in. But when I search the Web for "star-tribune" (a newspaper I rarely read) coughing up hit list results cached from previous Google News searches (links I never followed) is just plain noise.

I'm not sure I want to search my own Web history on my own hard drive every time I search the Web. When you use Google to search the Web, what appears on the top of the hit list is largely determined by how popular the page is. What's in your browser cache is too random to give Google Desktop many hints as to what to put first -- or whether to show it to you at all.

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