Unfortunately, last Friday quite a few of us here in the UK office witnessed a road accident. We were out on our tiny, but perfectly positioned, balcony overlooking Regent Street when we heard a commotion on the road below. We saw a motorbike skidding across the tarmac and the motorcyclist fall and run over to a motionless man lying in the road – a pedestrian he must have just hit.
We watched in shock as people crowded around. Emergency services were called and then finally medics and police turned up. At first the man appeared completely still and motionless – a worrying sign, but after not too long somebody saw movement and what we presumed were reactions when he was talked to.
Anyway, that’s enough traumatic story-telling for the day. This incident led me to find something rather wrong with Google’s local algorithm. I’ve ranted about this a bit before and once again I’m finding myself blahing on and on when Google doesn’t give me exactly what I want; but how else are they going to learn?! They are supposed to be people-pleasers, and I am one of the people.
After discussing the accident again briefly in the office on the Monday morning, a number of us tried to find out if the incident had been reported in the news, mostly to see if the injured man was OK and how serious it had been. None of us could find anything; living in a large city means there are hundreds of accidents happening all the time, so it’s not a great surprise there was nothing reported (hopefully this indicates it wasn’t too serious or fatal, as well), but I found that Google was also to blame for these lack of answers in my searches, because it was doing something just plain WRONG.
When local is supposedly such a huge focus for Google, how are they dropping the ball so hard with a simple local news search? What was the point of the whole Venice update, if I can’t easily find breaking local news? Furthermore Google should really be able to understand that my intentions were for a local result, especially since I was signed in with a recorded location.
I tried a number of queries and above is an example of one of them: [motorbike accident regent street friday september]. You can’t get more specific than that, right? WRONG. The results give me irrelevant local answers to the question. For those of you who don’t know London, Regent Street is a large shopping street in the centre of London that runs perpendicular to the equally famous Oxford Street and crosses over Oxford Circus.
I believe here, Google is reading ‘Regent Street’ and understanding that this is near Oxford Circus and Oxford Street, and then taking the place name ‘Oxford’ and running with it — in completely the wrong direction. Oxford is a town in Oxfordshire about 60 miles from London (yes, where the University is located). So when all three of the top results and the fifth result relate to Oxford, not Regent Street in London, Google is completely misunderstanding what I’m asking. Maybe there is a famous Regent Street in Oxford too, you ask? Well, there is a very small road with the same name, but I don’t believe Google would favour that street to its London namesake.
The same happens in a Google News search, too. This may be another example of Google trying to be TOO helpful; what with loading our pages with Knowledge Graph information as well these days.
I even turned to Bing for help as a result, and although I found no results relating to that particular accident, there were no ‘Oxford’ related items. If I was playing Microsoft’s Bing it On it would be Bing 1 Google 0.
Come on Google, don’t let them win. Has this ever happened to you?