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My Google alphabet

Rory Cellan-Jones | 09:41 UK time, Thursday, 9 September 2010

"Welcome to Google Instant - feelings of euphoria and weightlessness are normal. Do not be alarmed."

That's the message that Google puts up every time you try out its new instant search service. Euphoria? I'm not sure that it will be greeted in that way by either users or advertisers, but both are likely to be disorientated by what is a radical change in the way we search - and the way we advertise around search. More on this from Maggie Shiels.

Screengrab of Google Instant

But what Google Instant does let us do is construct an instant alphabet which gives an insight into both the world's, and our own, current interests.

Let me explain. The moment you put even one letter into the Google search box, it starts predicting what you are looking for and giving you instant results. The example in the demo at Mountain View was "W", which instantly provided the weather for San Francisco. And for every letter of the alphabet, Instant has a top recommendation with instant search results.

I have been typing each letter into the search-box to come up with my own Google alphabet - and it is slightly disturbing. As I'm signed into my own Google account as I do it, I presume the results reflect my own interests, as well as those of millions of other users. What strikes me about my alphabet is that it is dominated by big corporate brand names - that "F is for Facebook" is no surprise, but why on earth is "D for Debenhams", a store which I can't remember visiting in either the real or virtual world.

What does seem likely is that very short search terms will become much more valuable - can you actually bid for "D"? - and that longer ones will go down in value to advertisers. Anyway, here is my alphabet - and I would be interested to hear how it differs from yours:

A is for Argos
B is for BBC
C is for Currys
D is for Debenhams
E is for eBay
F is for Facebook
G is for Google Maps
H is for Hotmail
I is for ITV
J is for John Lewis
K is for KLM
L is for Lotto
M is for MSN
N is for Next
O is for O2
P is for Paypal
Q is for QVC
R is for Rightmove
S is for Sky
T is for Tesco
U is for Utube (?)
V is for Vodafone
W is for weather
X is for Xbox
Y is for YouTube
Z is for Zara

Update 1310: Oh dear, it appears I still don't know my ABC after all these years. Somehow I left out V - which turns out to be for Vodafone.

It also seems that anyone using Google in the UK gets similar results. Google tell me that you only get a personalised result if you sign in to your gmail account and have web history enabled - and then only on searches that you have done before. Perhaps Google Instant is rather more of a blunt instrument than it first appears.


  • Comment number 1.

    I'm not so sure it is personal - I get exactly the same list, and I was just as surprised as you are at some of the entries. Sorry Rory!

  • Comment number 2.

    Rory, my alphabet is identical to yours. Which, given that I'm sure our browsing habits are not identical, suggests that there may be some optimisation going on already... (BTW V is for Virgin)

  • Comment number 3.

    Nothing personal here, all my recommendations were identical, which is weird, considering how much Google must know about me from 9,000 searches of mine they have stored over the years ( to be scared by how much Google knows about you.)

  • Comment number 4.

    Hi Rory,

    I get a very similar list, mine differs in the following places:

    I Ikea (nope never been to their site)
    Q Quidco (again.)
    V Vodafone (I have been there, helping a friend find install files)
    X Xe. (no idea!)

    The second item in each list was as for you though.

  • Comment number 5.

    I wonder if, as they're rolling it out they start with a generic list and then future searches will change the results of Google Instant.

    I'm not sure I want to keep working through the alphabet to check...

  • Comment number 6.

    Only differnces i = ikea, q = quidco (?), v = vodaphone, x = xe

    PS what about the numbers and special characters?

    for example
    . = .net, 4 = 4oD, 6 = 6Music, 7 = 7Zip

    some unicode characters also give an immediate result eg € = xe or ž = zivnostensky-register (in slovak?)

    Endless fun for the terminally bored! Someone try Chinese, Japanese or Korean!

    Lots of these are entirely new to any of our web use too.

  • Comment number 7.

    Rory Cellan-Jones.

    " alphabet - and I would be interested to hear how it differs from yours.."

    same here, beginning to think that location must have something to do with it.

    reznorsedge (#4), are you in the UK?

  • Comment number 8.

    Rory Cellan-Jones.

    this line from Maggie Shiels' last post is interesting because her results are different, she's based in California, no?

    she wrote: "In a quick one-letter experiment, when I typed in the letter "A" I was offered a choice of "Amazon, AOL or Apple" on a drop-down list. For "B" I got "Bart (Bay Area Rapid Transport) and Best Buy". "C" was Craisglist and "D" it was DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles)."

  • Comment number 9.

    @jr4412 (#7).

    Yup, based in sunny Bracknell(!). The slight difference may be because I sometimes work from home and when I do that I use an American IP address as that's where my VPN server resides, so that might skew my results. In fact yesterday I was online for approx 10 hours, 3 of which were 'American' hours.

  • Comment number 10.

    I got the same as Rory. I'm guessing this is UK defaults and the system will learn with more usage.

    If you need to be logged into your googlemail account I don't think I'll be using this very much. I prefer Google SSL:

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 11.

    I get quite a lot of differences - but I use the French language (although I'm still in the UK).

    Brands like Facebook and eBay are still in my alphabet though, as well as IKEA which several people have mentioned for I.

  • Comment number 12.

    not logged in, but I got the following exceptions to your list (

    i - ikea
    k - klm
    q - quidco
    v - vodafone
    x - xe

    using, my exception list is:
    a - amazon
    b - best buy
    c - craigslist
    d - dictionary
    e -
    f -
    g -gmail
    h -
    i - ikea
    j - jet blue
    k - kohls
    l - lowes
    m - mapquest
    n - netflix
    o - orbitz
    p - pandora
    q - quotes
    r - rei
    s - sears
    t - target
    u - usps
    v -
    w -
    x -
    y - yahoo
    z - zillow

    When logged in, my exceptions list looks like (
    k - klm
    v - virgin

  • Comment number 13.

    Can I ask - why is everyone getting so hung-up about this 'alphabet' thing? Google has been trying to finish my words and sentences for as long as I can remember, with increasing accuracy as it builds up a memory of what I regularly search for. Correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is that the thing with Google Instant is not this AutoComplete (which has been around for years) but that it delivers search results, not just search-term options, before you hit enter or 'Search'. (I can't currently test it because my work computer's browser is too old and vulnerable.)

  • Comment number 14.

    Not logged in my alphabet same as Rory except for:

  • Comment number 15.

    The results are still fairly standard.

    I did a similar look earlier this year. Here is a link to the same thing done in February this year for the UK, Germany, France, India and China.

    Very little has changed in the top results and at this point, there was no customisation for different users.

  • Comment number 16.

    Joe makes a good point. The alphabet is irrelevant - if I'm looking for 'views of newquay beach' then being presented with a result for 'vodafone' after the first letter is not going to make me stop and buy a mobile phone contract instead.

    Words need context to be meaningful searches. This is a fun gimmick, but it won't change the fact that you need to give a certain amount of context to your search before it can hope to produce something relevant in most cases.

  • Comment number 17.

    So, as you type your first few letters, results that are useless start returning. Wasting bandwidth. Not much bandwidth, but some. I wonder how much this wasted bandwidth adds up to across the country. The good news is that you can turn it off if you want. This might be a good idea if you are paying for mobile bandwidth, or heaven forbid, using dial-up.

  • Comment number 18.


    das örtliche

  • Comment number 19.

    This is the Australian alphabet list. There are a couple of similarities to the UK list. The most interesting entry is L - Limewire. note it links to the German Limewire page.

    The brackets contain my explanation of the site.

    A – ATO (Australian tax office)
    B – BOM (weather bureau)
    C – Centrelink (gov’t dept)
    D – Domain (Real Estate)
    E – Ebay
    F – Facebook
    G – Gmail
    H – Hotmail
    I – Ikea
    J – Jetstar
    K – Kmart (department store)
    L – Limewire ([Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator])
    M – Maps
    N – Nab (Bank)
    O – Optus
    P – Paypal
    Q – Qantas
    R – rta (NSW gov’t - road transport authority)
    S – Seek (employment recruitment site)
    T – Telstra
    U – Utube (you tube)
    V – virgin blue
    W – White Pages
    X – Xe (foreign currency exchange rates)
    Y – Youtube
    Z – Zumba (popular latin dance exercise - advertised on tele)

  • Comment number 20.

    Does Google know more about my lifestyle than is good for it (or me, possibly)?

    Fly Agaric
    Isobutyl Nitrate
    Zero Tolerance

  • Comment number 21.

    Plastic till I die #20.

    LOL nice one.

  • Comment number 22.

    It is area specific. Google states that there is no human interference in the ranking - it is adaptive to aggregate usage. So mostly influenced by people who use the google search box as an address bar, which explains why is a suggested result for G

  • Comment number 23.

    I thought that Google was getting off-course, and now even more so. There's a pretty good article on a site I am connected with - I hope this is not breaking the rules as this article highlights that Google is not actually giving its searching users what they want -

    The author demonstrates that a fairly simple search for fishing tackle produces many hits on Google, as you would expect. However, the site that Google ranks top doesn't have the phrase that was used in the search within its page - not even in the meta-data. Yet, there are sites much further down the results list that are a much better match for the search phrase. So far down though that they are unlikely to be realised.

    So now, Google, so it seems, is predicting what we are searching based purely upon its own ranking system. I think this is bad news for Google users.

  • Comment number 24.

    You are missing the most important point. As you type there are complete searches done with every new letter typed. This means there are always going to be more incorrect searches than correct ones. It is distracting to me, it is a waste of bandwidth, a waste of Google's servers time, and I can't even predict what all these wasted searches are going to do to the search algorithm. Biggest mistake since New Coke and I predict the person pushing this will be fired.

  • Comment number 25.

    It is a shame to have not the alphabet in the right way. It should be forbidden to do so. Furthermore this kind of search on Google is not very used and not very useful as people prefer to fill in their own keywords.

  • Comment number 26.

    If you are using Google UK then what you are seeing is auto-complete not Google Instant as it hasn't "rolled out" to the UK yet.

    I really don't think that it does reflect anything personal as I'm signed in and have web search on and the results that start appearing are nothing that would interest me!


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