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9:22am on Thursday, 7th June, 2007:

Unhelpful Help


Spam filters: you install one, you delete bad emails, it learns what emails you dislike, it deletes them. Two months later, it's deleting so many emails you do want that you have to reset it and start from scratch.

I've been spending 14 hours a day for the past several days looking for figures for this set of trivia questions I'm putting together. At some point, Google's profiling system figured I wanted hard facts, and started giving me links to academic papers — academic papers you need to have a subscription to in order to read. I didn't realise this initially, until I clicked on them and got messages telling me I had to pay. Unfortunately, Google saw the clicks but didn't see the WTF-I'm-not-paying-for-that reaction once I got to the target page. As a result, it's weighted academic papers much more highly than usual, so I get a bunch of references to Oxford Journals and JSTOR every search now. Google may well be patting itself on the back at how well it's serving my needs, but it's doing no such thing. I don't want sites to show up where I have to pay to access content — I'd like those removed from my searches, not given prominence.

When email profiling breaks down, you either reset the spam filter or throw the whole thing out in disgust and do it manually. What do you do when search engine profiling breaks down, though? I'm guessing that deleting a few cookies isn't going to work...

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Copyright © 2007 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).