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Lost In Translation: Do Search Engines Know What We Really Want?

1777 words - 8 pages

In order to understand the differences between search engines, I chose to search the web for information regarding Stuxnet, the infamous computer worm that subverted Iran’s nuclear facilities in 2010. More specifically, I searched for the impact Stuxnet had on cyber warfare. My knowledge on this topic does not extend beyond the well-established fact that Stuxnet has indeed had a profound impact on cyber warfare, as it was the first instance of a malware that subverted industrial systems. Hence, I wanted information on the web that specifically covers this point and possibly also the potential dangers that Stuxnet has introduced into cyber warfare.
The query I chose to run in Google, Yahoo, and Bing was “how did Stuxnet affect cyber warfare?” I purposely chose a question-based query in order to see how well each search engine could respond to that. However, this was not the original query I started out with. The very first one was “Stuxnet”, however that felt a little too ambiguous in terms of what I wanted the search engine to give me. Finally, after a couple of broken sentences such as “stuxnet impact how” to full questions with switched subject and object, “how was the cyber warfare impacted by stuxnet?” I decided to go with the query as mentioned above as I wanted all relevant results to talk about how Stuxnet affected cyber warfare (interestingly enough, all queries returned Stuxnet’s Wikipedia page).
Upon first glance of the search results, a couple of surface-level observations can be made. The first observation is the quantity of results recalled by each search engine from their vast collection of records. Bing returned 1,400,000 results while Yahoo returned 1,380,000 results. Meanwhile, Google returned only “About 183,000 results”. What needs to be analyzed here is the relevancy of each result.
The second observation is the similarity or overlap of links between the search engines. While all three engines returned the Wikipedia page for Stuxnet as their top result, most of the remaining results after that seemed to lack congruency when it came to comparing Google’s results to the other two’s. However, most the returned results of Bing and Yahoo were the same, albeit in different order.
The third, and perhaps most significant, observation is the bolded keywords under each result. Here is where the main difference between each search engine’s algorithms can be seen. Google operates on the basis of understanding the meaning behind the entire query; i.e, the sum of its parts. Whereas, the other search engines tend to focus on the parts and not the whole meaning or context of the query. Under Bing and Yahoo’s results, essentially the same words from the query are looked for in each of the web pages. However, Google looks not only for the exact same words, but also looks for words which mean the same thing or relate to the original in some way (examples are “effect”, “doing”, “affecting”, ..etc).
In terms of precision, the relevancy of the...

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