What does Google think the minimum wage is?

There's been several long threads recently on Google's crappy info-box. Google doesn't want you to leave the Google page, so Google slurps information up and presents you an answer on the Google homepage.

Here's what it typically looks like.
Google search for Kermit the Frog displays an info box with Kermit's photos and details.

OK, that's kinda useful. Search for a thing and get the info without clicking through.

But there are times when it goes dreadfully wrong. Sometimes it gives dangerously misleading information.

And, other times, it's merely annoying.

Suppose you are worried that you are being under-paid. You go off to Google and search for "minimum wage uk". Here's what Google thinks is the appropriate thing to show you.

Graph showing the rise in minimum wage in Euros.

Let's count all the ways this is useless:

  • The UK doesn't use the Euro as its currency - it uses the Pound.
  • Minimum wage is always expressed per hour - not per month.
  • Comparisons with other countries don't take into account tax rates.
  • Historical wages might be of interest - but users often prefer recent information.
  • The "Explore More" link goes to a page which doesn't feature the minimum wage.

In short, this is an utterly feeble attempt to surface knowledge. Google have misinterpreted the query, discovered irrelevant but authoritative data, and surfaced that.

But, perhaps we should blame the user. Why can't they be more precise in their query? Why don't they ignore Google's hype about machine learning, big data, rockstar engineers, and knowledge graphs? Yes! The user is to blame! They should be more explicit in what they're searching for…

Google Search for "what's the minimum wage in the uk per hour". It displays the same Euro graph as before.


Look, I'm sure some product manager somewhere has received a bonus for increasing dwell times and reducing click-through rates. But at what cost? We don't have a fully-semantic web yet. And, even if we did, it isn't clear that Google is any better at understanding a user's query than Ask Fucking Jeeves.

As Matthew Somerville says:

My opinion is that the countless time and money spent on trying to be clever and machine learning or whatever it is has made Google worse, not better.

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