Ohio is for Lovers, Montana is For Badasses

27 Feb

Ohio is for Lovers HatI love autocomplete and the insight it gives you into the zeitgeist of the internet.  I purposely take my time when entering search terms so that Google will throw inadvertently amusing (and sometimes racist) suggestions at me.

Recently @mattshirley41 decided to explore what his fellow netizens think about the United States and mapped the results.  The United States Is… maps autocomplete suggestions for the 50 states.

The United States Is...The result is an interesting look at stereotypes of and popular phrases about each state.  Georgia probably wouldn’t be on so many people’s minds if it weren’t for the song.  But, how to explain the preponderance of negative stereotypes about other states?  Many states are labeled as boring, broke, or racist, but very few have positive associations.  Best one: “Montana is for badasses.”

Some of the negatives seem pretty easy to trace.  Mississippi is the fattest state,” is statistically true.  But, the meme can probably be blamed on Oprah, who loudly proclaimed it on her show, and Kathy Griffin, who imitated that proclamation in her stand up.

Sad Lego Man by Kalexanderson

Photo credit to Kalexanderson.

Maybe the multitude of negatives is explained by the fact that we don’t spend a lot of time searching for “____________ is awesome,” – no matter what goes in that blank.  Maybe we’re just more concerned about learning about things that are wrong than about things that are right…  Speculation about our use of negative search terms aside, the negativity of autocomplete suggestions has spawned its own industry, with services like Beat the Autocomplete helping companies and individuals to replace negatives with more positive autocomplete suggestions.

It may seem that the tone and content of autocomplete suggestions don’t matter, but they do.  Like top results, they tell us what other people think about a topic, and imply that maybe we should think that, too.  And, since Google added search-as-you-type, autocomplete drives those all important results.

Bow and Arrow by davidyuweb

Photo credit to davidyuweb.

There have been a number of high profile libel suits in which people have attempted to force Google to remove possibly damaging autocomplete suggestions.  Google has generally come out the victor – apparently “don’t shoot the messenger” is a legally defensible position.  I can’t picture any of the states mounting a similar case, but in an era of increasingly tight state budgets and fierce campaigns to lure out-of-state businesses and the jobs that come with them, it doesn’t seem totally impossible.

Questions of the day: If a state were to sue Google over libelous autocomplete which one would it be?  And if they did sue, how could they prove that it really wasn’t true?  Isn’t California really broke?  Isn’t Georgia really on your mind?

Maggie (Not Margaret) is a blog about social media, marketing, culture, and what’s new on the internet written by me, Maggie O’Toole.   Find anything interesting in the worlds of culture or social media that you’d like to see a post on? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at 2maggieotoole@gmail.com.

3 Responses to “Ohio is for Lovers, Montana is For Badasses”

  1. jamieahughes February 27, 2013 at 8:32 pm #

    This is great! I can see how some of the search results came up, but it is a fairly sad indicator of the state of the world when so many things are negative. It also makes me think of the recent side-by-side comparison of results on Google using correct/incorrect grammar.

    • Maggie O'Toole February 27, 2013 at 9:12 pm #

      Those side by side grammar comparisons are hilarious! Not going to lie, when that meme was going around, I spend entirely too much time trying to come up with the worst possible grammar to feed into Google for laughs.

      If you’re interested in the stories that search terms tell, check out Google correlate which will let you play with trends in search terms over time, by location, and as compared to other terms. Enjoy the rabbit hole!

  2. Hubert March 1, 2013 at 6:03 am #

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    I have really enjoyed reading through your blog. I think you have some real quality content here along with some very informative posts and strong opinions. I think it would be worth sharing with more people and I believe I could help to get you new readers if you are interested especially seeing as you take up subjects like social media which are of immediate interest to us.

    I am looking for passionate writers to join our community of bloggers and I was wondering whether you would consider sharing your posts on Glipho and become a member?

    It might be a good idea to give your writing and your blog more exposure while having fun and meeting fellow writers.

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