By James Cooley - February 19 2007 tags: search

If I have a problem with Google I try Yahoo! and Ask and usually go back to Google again. Wikipedia is usually worth a look at that point. Google has made it pretty easy to find certain things but it makes you wonder what is the hardest search possible (HSP)?

The thing I was looking for was an early interview with the Google founders where they gave some insight into how they came up with such a clean page design when all the other engines where trying to get as much as possible on a portal-type page.

The story goes that the Google founders got a daily anonymous email telling them they had exceeded 20 elements on the Google landing page. They would reduce the number of elements back to 19 and the anonymous email would stop. I say 20 elements but it was somewhere in the region of 20-40, that's why I was searching. Here's what would normally work.

"anonymous email" reduce elements on google page
No sign of the story.

I figure this is one of the HSP as it's right in the center of the search engine optimization territory because of the term "google" and right in the center of the span world as I mention "anonymous". It doesn't help that Steve and Larry did an interview for Playboy - but it was easy enough to find that.

I think I read about this when a Google biography was released. I'll have a skim through that next time I'm killing time in a bookshop.

The funny thing about this one is it all happened since search engines became big and has to do with an story/urban legend about search engines. I read the story on-line too. It's well within the 20% of the internet that is indexed. Perhaps there's a search engine niche there for stories about search engines.

Finding the HSP is perhaps the other end of the scale to Googlewhacking where you try to "find that elusive query (two words - no quote marks) with a single, solitary result!". In the case of the hardest possible search you are looking for any combination of words that give the correct result in the first 100 results. It's funny in that adding words to a search can increase the changes of getting an unintended result.

Perhaps there is a practical limit to the usefulness of search engines in that once they become a useful decision tool they become so prone to manipulation that you're back to the bookshop again. The next step forward (the semantic web?) will have arrived when people start game it.