Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

The Incredible Shrinking Google...The Myth That Everything Is Indexed

Posted by Tom Foremski - May 20, 2010

Occasionally, I Google myself to see who is referencing my work. A couple of years ago Google returned 160,000 references to my name.

In March 2009 Google returned 135,000 references to my name.

In August 2009 Google found 102,000 references.

Today, Google had 94,100 references for "Tom Foremski."

I write a lot here on SVW but also on ZDNet and often people will reference my work in their posts. Surely, my search results should be growing and not shrinking?

Plus, now there is Twitter too, and my handle is tomforemski. Google found 98,500 references to "tomforemski" -- yet I've been publishing online for more than 20 years, ten times longer than on Twitter. Surely, I should have far more references than my Twitter handle?

Clearly, something is not right. Clearly, the number of results that Google claims is bogus.

Here's another example. I found this post by Debbie Weil, a veteran author and speaker: Redux: Have You Googled Yourself Lately?

At the time of writing the post, May 2009, she had 143,000 results. Five years prior to that she had 77,900 results. That's a decent increase.

Today, if you Google Debbie Weil you'll find just 33,200 results.

What's going on? Why are there fewer results?

Also, have you ever tried to see the very last result of your name? I tried to see the very last result in March 2009, I could only get as far as 552. Today, I could only get as far as the 304th reference.

What's going on?

We are warned that Google will remember everything about us, all our youthful transgressions, everything we did online is searchable.

That's plainly not true. In fact, the longer the time between now and then, the fewer results.

At this rate I'll be practically invisible online within a few years...

Updated: Several commenters have said that Google publishes estimates of the number of citations. But what is the accuracy of those numbers? Is it within 10 percent, 15 percent of the true number or is it a completely meaningless number?

Simon Firth makes an excellent point, he notes that journalists often use those numbers.

...Foremski’s observation makes clear that Google search statistics have dubious validity as measures of scale. And yet journalists, myself included, use them all the time as a shorthand way of measuring impact.

Also, Google publishes trend data that clearly, must use those very same estimates. How reliable is that data? Shouldn't Google reveal the margin of accuracy in its estimates?


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