In my line of work (education), an oft-cited sales pitch is the search query “acid rain.” The topic of “fish” is relevant. The topic on “sulfur” is relevant. So are “fossil fuel” and “carbon dioxide.” But what about “Scandinavia”?
So what about Scandinavia? It turns out that it was in Scandinavia where instances of acid rain were first observed in the 1950s. Without encountering the right material, mentions of Scandinavia would go unnoticed, or if noticed, be deemed irrelevant. Such examples are everywhere. A colleague of mine discovered the connection between ice-cream and Missouri. It turns out that the first ice-cream cone appeared at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. Such discovery is accidental. When searching for something, there is obviously a target of search. But when something accidental occurs, one does not veer off course, it is just that the outcome is beyond one’s expectation. There, I believe, lies the spirit of the practice.
Knowing people working at Google, a typical discussion topic is how Google handles users from all walks of life from all over the world. Search queries tend to be short and therefore rife with ambiguities. Judging the popularity of a website according to the number and quality of websites that are linked to it, a beauty contest of sorts for websites, can be effective and propelled Google to the top of all search engines. Now that the engine has amassed so much online content that it can choose to serve up pages the way it chooses.
One memorable debate I had with a Google employee was the function of serving pages based on the origin of the search. If one comes from the English speaking part of Canada and look up a French person, say, Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, a French soldier famous for his participation of the Seven Years’ War, English pages from the Canadian government, the CBC and the Canadian Encyclopedia would show up, while for French content or sources originating from French authors, one has to go through a few result pages before surfacing, if at all. If the search comes from, say, Quebec City, French content would appear much more readily at the top of the result page.
Since 2005, we have opened our centre to the local community who are interested in meditation. While accessible by car and by public transit, the centre is situated in a business/industrial complex on the edge of a residential community. There is no question that people are interested in exploring meditation. How do you let people know that such a venue exists?