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The United States of Autocomplete

Posted by Josh Rothman  December 9, 2010 08:30 AM

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Dorothy Gambrell of Very Small Array has made a clever map of the United States in which each state's name has been replaced by its associated Google autocomplete suggestion - "The United States of Autocomplete."

Image from Very Small Array (click to enlarge).

Massachusetts, for example, is labeled "Massachusetts Bay Colony" - the first autocomplete item to appear beneath Dorothy's search box when she types in "Massachusetts." California is "California Prop 19"; Oregon is "Oregon Trail"; Kentucky is "Kentucky Fried Chicken"; Louisiana, "Louisiana Purchase."

Dorothy's map is actually different from the map you would draw if you repeated her exercise, since Google's autocomplete feature takes into account your own past searches (assuming you're signed in to Google) as well as what other people have been searching for recently. Google also suggests more local search queries, so that if you're in Massachusetts you're more likely to see "Massachusetts RMV" than "Massachusetts Bay Colony."

Unsurprisingly, Google's autocomplete has been a fun toy for the curious ever since it debuted as "Google Suggest" in 2004. It's a quick and easy way to peer into the slightly senseless search-engine universe - witness the "Top 10 Funniest Google Search Results," and PC World's equally enjoyable "Fun with Google Suggest." From PC World comes this inspired suggestion:

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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