One letter searches

Just noodling around, I started typing something into Wikipedia’s search box, and before I thought of a second letter to type, it popped up a list of suggested auto-completions. I was slightly amused at the top hit, so decided to try every letter in the alphabet to see what I’d get. Here then is the list:

  • Animal
  • Bakhsh
  • Canada
  • Departments of France
  • England
  • France
  • Germany
  • Hispanic (U.S. Census)
  • Iran standard time
  • Japan
  • Keyboard instrument
  • List of sovereign states
  • Mollusca
  • New York City
  • Ontario
  • Poland
  • Quebec
  • Race and ethnicity in the United States Census
  • Spain
  • The New York Times
  • United States
  • Village
  • World War II
  • X
  • YouTube
  • ZIP code

This is a very interesting list. Presumably it is decided by some sort of algorithm running on Wikipedia’s servers that analyses the most popular search terms. Some of the entries are perfectly plausible on this assumption: England, France, Germany, United States, World War II. I can easily imagine they might well be the most popular Wikipedia search terms starting with those letters.

Others are more odd. Mollusca stands out a bit. Okay, I can see a lot of people might search for information on Animals in general, but molluscs? And by their technical name rather than common name? Iran standard time? Who on earth is searching specifically for information about the time zone of Iran? The two US Census entries are also intriguing… is there some reason for lots of people to look for information about race or ethnicity with regards to US Census taking?

The strangest one to me is Bakhsh. Until I tried this experiment, I’d never even heard the term. It’s an extremely specialised subject and the Wikipedia entry is quite short. Why is this showing up as the number one suggested search auto-complete beginning with B? I have no clue.

Trying the experiment further afield, here are the top auto-complete suggestions for typing one letter into Google’s search box (with explanations, since many of them are Australian companies – Google is clearly using my IP address to localise my results):

  • ANZ (ANZ Bank)
  • BoM (Australian Bureau of Meteorology)
  • Centrelink (Australian Government Department of Human Services)
  • dictionary
  • eBay
  • Facebook
  • Google
  • Hotmail
  • Instagram
  • JetStar (Australian airline)
  • Kmart
  • LinkedIn
  • maps
  • Netbank (e-banking service of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia)
  • Optus
  • PayPal
  • Qantas
  • real estate
  • SMH (The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper)
  • TV guide
  • UTS (University of Technology, Sydney)
  • Virgin
  • Westpac (another bank)
  • XBox
  • YouTube
  • Zara

3 Responses to “One letter searches”

  1. Chris Robertson says:

    Just for kicks I tried to replicate your Wikipedia results from Anchorage, Alaska (USA). My results match yours exactly.

    On the Google results, I imagine they are also skewed by whether you are logged into other Google services or not.

  2. Hmmm. I was logged in at the time, which may explain why BoM came up as the top hit for “b”. But I’ve never searched for Hotmail or Kmart or Zara…

  3. Chris Robertson says:

    Not logged in, in a “private” window (so perhaps it’s not clouded by past results):

    bank of america
    craigslist (online classifieds)
    juneau empire (“the daily newspaper of Alaska’s capital city”)
    ktuu (local television station)
    lowes (hardware store)
    quizlet (learning tools for students and teachers, or so the website proclaims)
    rei (outdoor clothing and gear store)
    state of alaska
    target (Upscale(ish) Wal*Mart)
    uaa (Univerisy of Alaska Anchorage)
    wells fargo (US bank)
    zangle (apparently a student management solution)

    There are some very interesting similarities. I would say your original hypothesis of localized results based on IP address has a lot of merit.

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