Embracing the internet’s random factor

Posted on January 11, 2017


Google has become so good at working out what we’re looking for, that you could say that an element of unpredictability has been lost from the whole search engine experience.

In the 1990s, I remember being too cheap to buy a TV guide and trying to search for the TV listings for the week ahead, then print them out as a home-made, self-researched guide. It was an absolute chore. Whatever search engine I was using (probably Yahoo!) appeared totally confused by what a ‘TV guide’ was, and seemed to think I was looking for some sort of guide to installing a television. It had no idea what country I was planning to watch TV in either. In the end, I gave up and bought a Radio Times, or cheaper equivalent to it.

Today, one can simply Google ‘TV guide’ and find the excellent TVGuide.co.uk, and there’s no need to do anything archaic like print it out as I can access it on my phone while I’m in front of the TV.

However, if you’re appreciative of the car boot or jumble sale quality of finding something you weren’t looking for online, you might glean some enjoyment from the quirky search engine at MysterySearch.

Brilliantly, what you’ll find from using this search engine is almost certainly not what you’re looking for, but rather what the person before you was looking for.

I took it for a spin and decided to search for my favourite football team, Chester FC. I waited nervously to find out what MysterySearch would conjure up for me, and got…maple syrup!

There aren’t many similarities between the two, other than that both show a lot of bottle but often get stuck to the bottom. Nonetheless, it’s oddly satisfying to finish off somebody else’s search process. These are the results another internet user never got to see.

Better yet, whatever the person after me searched for, they would have got a load of results about my football team, including the official site, Wikipedia page, fans’ forum Deva Chat and the club’s BBC page. They would also have learned that we beat Braintree Town 2-1 on Saturday.

The internet has so much ‘stuff’ on it, that it’s easy to stumble upon something and get completely distracted by it. What’s more, its vastness can lead to ingenuity.

Try going to Wikipedia, making sure you’re in desktop mode, and searching for a ‘Random article’ from the left-hand menu. I did this 10 times and I got pages about:

  • An 1879 novel called ‘Sir Gibbie’ by Scottish author George MacDonald
  • A South Korean singer and actor who goes by the stage name ‘Rain’
  • A deceased Romanian actor called Adrian Pintea
  • John Chaldos, a Byzantine general who lived from 995 to 1030
  • The North Avenue Rural Historic District, a historic, agricultural part of Massachusetts
  • A 1985 teen comedy film called ‘Mischief’
  • Lambert’s Castle, an Iron Age fort in Dorset
  • A page about Group A of a minor basketball tournament from 2014 called EuroChallenge
  • A list of people from San Marcos, Texas
  • Zaña Valley, a Peruvian archaeological area

What do these 10 things have in common? Well, not much, except that I know nothing about any of them. I think I’ve heard of San Marcos but I only knew of one of the people from there – former US President Lyndon B. Johnson. With it being so full of information, the internet is a sobering reminder that there’s an awful lot you don’t know.

In 2009, music website NoiseAddicts.com came up with a novel way to use internet randomness to decide your band name (Wikipedia), album title (QuotationsPage.com) and album cover (Flickr). I had a go and came up with ‘Everything Else is Secondary’ by Unachess. I’ve heard much worse, and this is a pretty funky album cover!

Another way you can use online information overload to have fun is to play The Wiki Game, where you can hop from one Wikipedia article to the next in a pursuit to find a given Wikipedia page, all while learning in the process.

The internet, aside from being big business and a vital commodity, is great fun. These little diversions are a reminder that we shouldn’t always allow Google to be our tour guide, but also make time for exploring its landscapes for ourselves.

Content Team Leader at Engage Web
John works for Engage Web as a Content Team Leader and regularly contributes to the website and programmes of his beloved Chester F.C.
John Murray
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