Google “Ashley Cole Gay” Results Suggestion Prompts Questions From His Solicitor

Google may
face legal action over Ashley Cole searches
over at Pink News covers how
English footballer Ashley Cole might be upset with Google because of how its
clustering technology is highlighting content about "ashley cole gay" in its
search results. It’s another example of Google’s user interface experiments
confusing people.

This

screenshot
shows what’s at issue. Midway down, you’ll see a section that
says:

See results for: ashley
cole gay


Independent Online Edition > Legal

England footballer Ashley Cole is suing The Sun and the
News of the World over
claims that two Premiership players indulged in a "gay sex orgy".


news.independent.co.uk/uk/legal/article348966.ece


Ashley Cole sues after gay rumours | Headlines | News | Gay.com
UK

Gay.com UK is the country’s leading gay and
lesbian lifestyle portal, providing
an unrivalled combination of chat and news.
uk.gay.com/headlines/9687


Ashley Cole files lawsuit over gay orgy story- from Pink News-
all

Ashley Cole files lawsuit over gay orgy story
from PinkNews – all the latest gay
news from the UK and beyond to the gay community.

www.pinknews.co.uk/news/articles/2005-670.html

This is an example of the middle-of-the-page query refinement that Google’s
been testing over the past several months, as we wrote about
back in August.

In particular, what seems to be happening is that Google is performing
"clustering," a long-standing technique of grouping pages on a similar topic
together. In other words, its sees there are lots of pages about "ashley cole"
along with a subgroup of those on the topic of "ashley cole gay."

That there might be a subgroup like this isn’t surprising. Cole is currently
suing
newspapers The Sun and The News Of The World over allegations they printed that
he is gay. Those allegations have fueled discussion on the web, leading to a
subgroup of pages on this topic.

Clusty provides a similar example of this. A search for
ashley cole over there
shows clustered topics along the left-hand side of the page including:

Cole’s solicitor is reported by Pink News as wanting to know if it was
editorially done by Google or based on search volume. Google gave no comment.

From where I sit, it almost certainly was NOT editorially done. Instead, it
was probably based on a combination of search volume and actual pages on the
web.

In other words, Google’s probably seen a spike in queries for "ashley cole
gay." It also can probably see there’s a good chunk of pages out there on this
topic.

For example, a search for the exact phrase
"ashley cole"
brings back 551,000 matching web pages. If I further refine that to
"ashley
cole" gay
, I find there are 48,800 pages that use his name along with the
word "gay" on them — about 9 percent of all the exact phrase "Ashley Cole"
pages out there.

It’s important to remember that search counts can be very misleading. A large
number of pages with his name and the word gay doesn’t mean he is gay, only that
many pages might be discussing the topic. It could also be his name is showing
up on pages that use the word gay in reference to other people.

Our Fox
News & Danger Of Citing Search Counts
discussion at the Search Engine Watch
Forums covers more about why you can’t depend on counts to "prove" particular
facts. But the large number of pages could cause Google — just like Clusty —
to automatically decide that there’s a "cluster" or "topic" related to those
words.

Why bring up this particular topic when something like
"ashley
cole" cars
comes up with more matches (60,100 of them)? That brings me back
to search volume. If Google’s noticing that there are a lot of queries on a
particular subtopic (ashley cole gay) related to the main topic (ashley cole)
plus a significant number of pages on that topic, that might cause this
refinement to kick in.

Of course, turning to the
Google AdWords
Keyword Tool
should help show this. It (and the more advanced tool
here) can show the
most popular terms related to the core term Ashley Cole. And those are?

  • ashley cole
  • ashley cole and cheryl tweedy
  • cheryl tweedy ashley cole
  • ashley cole pictures
  • ashley cole girlfriend

So where’s "ashley cole gay" on the list? My guess is that the search data
Google is showing is old, so that this term that may be rising in popularity
isn’t appearing.

The Google Zeitgeist
is another place to check if this query might be gaining. However, Google’s not
updated non-US
versions
since last November. Even if it does, the lists there are subject
to human review. Google might very well remove something if it’s deemed not
family friendly, just as it already removes many sexually-related queries.

In the end, I doubt Cole would have much success in suing Google over the
listing, if indeed he decided he wanted to. There are definitely pages on the
topic and almost certainly people looking for information about it.

Still, it would sure be nice as we wrote in our
Google Losing
Consistency As It Continues To Experiment With Results
article back in
August if Google made it clearer how and why certain things show up in its
search results. It has a search results explanation page
here, but that page
doesn’t cover the continued experimental displays that Google is doing and
confusing people with.

Postscript: Hitwise has stats showing the growth the "gay" queries

here
, and

Schmidt’s Google Queried By Soccer Star’s Lawyers
from Forbes has none other
than Google CEO Eric Schmidt putting out a statement saying the suggestion was
automatically created based on query behavior. Cole’s lawyer Graham Shear is
satisfied with that explanation though wants to know more about the data behind
it.

Graham, see the previous Hitwise link. The data’s simple. Your client is in
the news over the allegations. Lots of people interested in the case are almost
certainly typing in his name to find out more, getting a lot of stuff not
necessarily related to the allegations, so they are adding the word "gay" to
narrow down the search results.

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