Wednesday Jan 27, 2010

Did you mean...?

Just an example of how search engines use statistics to help them "understand" words. Until today, iPad wasn't a word (or at least, it wasn't a name). If you go to Google (for now at least) and search for ipad, you see something like this:

iPad appears very infrequently but is similar to a word that appears very frequently - "iPod". iPad appears infrequently enough and the discrepancy between the two is large enough, that Google assumes I probably made a mistake typing iPad. Google's actual algorithm for spelling corrections is more complicated than this, but this is the basic idea behind spelling correction in search engines. As iPad starts to show up all over the web, Google will stop making that suggestion since iPad will become more plausible (statistically) as a word. Or maybe somebody at Google will just add iPad to an exception list so it stops making the suggestion.

As a side note (no pun intended) the sponsored ads on the side of the page are all for the iPAQ as various vendors have put in bids to get listed for ipad as a misspelling of ipaq. In this case, I'm fairly sure, these are strictly companies that asked their ads to be shown for the word ipad (as well as ipaq).

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Jeff Alexander is a member of the Information Retrieval and Machine Learning group in Oracle Labs.

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