What Percentage of Google Searches are Contextual?

June 20, 2006

Topics: Google.

Peter Da Vanzo and Barry Schwartz have each posted recently on a question asked at Google Answers – specifically, the question was:

What percentage of Google searches are contextual? That is, what percentage of searches occur in response to content a user is reading on a page (e.g., reading an article about Qualcomm and then doing a search on "Paul Jacobs") versus "from scratch" searches that are not related to content a user is already reading. These contextual searches sometimes also occur via a "right-click" on a highlighted word within Firefox to search the Web for [highlighted term].

Google did not deign to answer or allow the question to be answered, which is the reason this has created a little bit of a stir in the blogsophere today. Both Da Vanzo and Schwartz described this as a form of censorship – which is an interesting question.

Now, on the basis of the question asked, I would have to say this was never going to be answered. This kind of statistical data is fairly consistent with information commonly covered by Google’s non-disclosure agreement, and certainly not publicly available at the moment, so censorship of the answer doesn’t appear to be the situation. No data was removed; and a failure to provide it does not constitute censorship.

However, Google removed the question as well – thus removing the possibility of some person attempting to answer it who may not have had that proprietary information. It seems foolish to prevent somebody from attempting to answer the question in a more discussive context. It also seems highly questionable to make the specious answer
"We’ve removed your question because you can find the answer on our main site, free of charge. All publicly available information about Google is available at: http://www.google.com/about.html.". The second part of this response is true – but the first part, as far as can be ascertained, is not.

I can understand why Google may not have wished to provide this answer – however, I think the choice to remove the question and answer it in this manner was unwise. A simple statement that the answer to this question is not available due to Google’s information disclosure policies would have been much more sensible and acceptable.

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