Google It: Knowledge Is Powerful

google search engine on macbook pro

It began with the news that Google is beta-testing a carousel display for writers at the world’s biggest search site. This is obvious catnip to content-creating freelancers in particular, as we have no default platform for highlighting our recent work, other than our own precious websites.

However, my excitement dulled a bit as I discovered that this display would appear in “knowledge panels” at the site and I didn’t have one.  Knowledge panels are what show on the right side of your laptop search screen when you type in the name of someone who is at all famous. Some of my former colleagues in the journalism trade are renowned enough to rate a panel including photos but I must have toiled too, too quietly. It’s true that I was a faceless editor for many years but before that I had a weekly column in the nation’s largest circulation daily. Maybe it was forgettable and anyway, that was in the pre-Google age. Today if you Google “Tim Ferguson” you get the goods on an Australian comedian.

A bit of search wizardry turned up the further news that knowledge panels are derived rather automatically (surprise!) from a universe known as the Knowledge Graph. A personality can endeavor to “self-correct” material in the knowledge panel, but induction into the Knowledge Graph in the first place is apparently by invitation only.

Oh well, I have never been selected for a MacArthur grant, either, but this rejection seemed more on a par with not getting a secret valentine in the 8th grade classroom handouts. As in, that hurt. But this time I wasn’t going just to mope off.

On June 18, I (as, ahem, editor@timwferguson.com) inquired with the Google press unit about the qualifications for the Knowledge Graph—was this algorithmic or somehow a human selection.  Ned from Press replied that he’d taken up the case. This explanation evidently could not be ascertained as quickly as who won the 1929 Rose Bowl. On the 22nd, I followed up, and on Friday the 25th, Ned apologized for a busy week and asked if he could phone me.

Not trusting my note-taking skills, as I am a less-than-famous journo, I responded that email precision was preferred and could he respond by the conclusion of his busy Monday. (Actually, I skipped the sarcasm—I remember a few things about reporting! And he had asked about my deadline, which I admit is existential.) Ned conscientiously checked in on Monday afternoon, hopeful to satisfy by end of the day but asking for more context “to help us get you the right info.” I referenced the carousel item but reiterated it was the Knowledge designation that really preoccupied me.

I must tell you this morning the 29th that the answer has not presented itself. (I will update below if Ned finds it.) Nor, despite making a pest of myself, have I been lifted into the Knowledge Graph. If the all-seeing Google algo is the touchy sort, I can be pretty sure this valentine also won’t be coming my way.

*UPDATE later on 6/29: The Google spokespeople have responded: “The Knowledge Graph is generated automatically, and gathers information from a variety of sources. It has amassed over 500 billion facts about five billion entities. While we’re always endeavoring to organize all the world’s information and make it universally accessible, our systems certainly don’t have information on every person or every entity. Our goal with the Knowledge Graph is for our systems to discover and surface publicly known, factual information when it’s determined to be useful.”

Some supplementary information they shared with me gently suggests that among those “500 billion facts,” my dossier comes up a little short. So, back to work!

Published by timwferguson

Longtime writer-editor, focusing on topics of business and policy, global and local.

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