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The real value of Google

© June 2006 Anthony Lawrence

I was sitting out on the back deck this morning looking out into the patch of woods behind us. That's conservation land, so nobody is going to be building on it, which is nice. You can see some old stone walls and there's a trail. An old Indian trail, maybe? Well, maybe, but I doubt it, because none of the trees I can see are very old - maybe fifty years tops.

How do I know that? I googled it, of course. You can estimate the age of a tree from its radius at around five feet up. Pure accuracy depends on a lot of factors (climate, species, soil conditions, sun light, competing neighbors and probably more) but a good guess is around five years per inch. There's barely a tree here with anything approaching a 10 inch radius, so these are pretty young trees.

Years ago, it would have taken me a lot longer to find that out, probably at least several hours. I doubt I would have bothered, in fact - too much trouble for trivial information.

But sometimes the answer to something trivial can trigger other ideas that could lead us to something more important. I didn't get a million dollar idea from learning that I could estimate a tree's age from its radius, but it's easy to see that something like that could easily happen. "Easily" is the important word here: almost any idle musing can have authoritative answers in seconds thanks to the Internet and search engines like Google. Those answers can raise other questions, and those just might lead us to something important, useful or even brand new and patentable.

It's a wonderful world, isn't it?

Update March 2011:

Google has caught flack in recent years for delivering bad results (Bing advertising has notably made fun of that). In the last few days of February, Google implemented a major algorithm change that they call "Big Panda" (the press was calling ith the "Farmer" update). This was intended to weed out the bad search results.

Early returns are mixed. Of course those whose results were devalued are loudly crying foul, but my testing says they did a good job in general. There are things that need fixing though - if I'm searching for a product that Amazon sells, I'd like to see ONE mention of Amazon and a link that would show me more if that's what I want.

Search will never be perfect, but it is getting better.

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-> The real value of Google


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Tue Jun 20 14:16:13 2006: 2131   dhart

Well, google is nothing without the internet, and I think we can all agree that the internet is a revolution in information technology, but here's my question:

Is the internet *evolutionaty*?

Tue Jun 20 14:20:19 2006: 2132   BigDumbDinosaur

"Easily" is the important word here: almost any idle musing can have authoritative answers in seconds thanks to the Internet and search engines like Google.

Dunno about the authoritative part. All Google, Alta Vista (yes, Alta Vista is still alive and I still use it) and the others can do is link you to sites that purport to have the answers. Just how accurate those answers might be can be debated in some cases. To quote one of your wisecracks, Tony, from a few years back in a comment attached to an article ( (link) "Wrong. I do claim to have all the answers. Some of them are WRONG answers, but..."

BTW, the tree out in back of our deck has about a 2 inch radius, which would roughly make it a 10 year old tree. Our place was built in 1995, at which time the trees were planted. So it would appear that the 5 years per inch of radius rule of thumb is fairly accurate. By the time this tree is big enough to qualify as a "big tree" I will be contibuting to the ecology as fertilizer. <Grin>

Tue Jun 20 15:05:44 2006: 2133   TonyLawrence

I should have emphasised "can". As BDD notes, plenty of wrong answers are available here and elsewhere.

Wed Jun 21 14:25:55 2006: 2136   BigDumbDInosaur

As BDD notes, plenty of wrong answers are available here...

They are??? Oh man! I'm in big trouble now. Just wait until my clients find out that I've been setting up their systems using wrong information. <Grin> I'll be lucky if I can get a job cleaning hot ones out horse stalls.


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