One of the fundamental questions (that we note and has come up in various places over the web) is why, when attempting to replicate the searches in Dorothy Gambrell's map of the United States, the results come back different for different people.
Some have argue that this is flaw in the mapping but actually this difference is inherent in the function of Autocomplete. Moreover, it potentially is a means of getting a better understanding of (1) how search varies over space and (2) how Google's search algorithm works (at least until they tweak it again).
In the interest of not reinventing the wheel, it's best to simply let Google explain the idea of Autocomplete themselves:
“As you type, Google's algorithm predicts and displays search queries based on other users' search activities. These searches are algorithmically determined based on a number of purely objective factors (including popularity of search terms) without human intervention. All of the predicted queries shown have been typed previously by Google users. The autocomplete dataset is updated frequently to offer fresh and rising search queries. In addition, if you're signed in to your Google Account and have Web History enabled, you may see search queries from relevant searches that you've done in the past.”Although Google's Autocomplete feature isn't inherently spatial, the parallels to our concept of "DigiPlace" are significant. The three central characteristics of DigiPlace, as outlined in the Zook and Graham 2007 article in Geoforum are...
- DigiPlace is automatically produced.
- DigiPlace is highly individualized.
- DigiPlace is dynamic.
In some sense, however, the idea of Autocomplete runs counter to the individualization of experience online. Indeed, the entire idea is to suggest things that you may be searching for based on what others have already searched for. So Autocomplete is simultaneously guiding users along a particular search path that has been made by others, but one that is also constructed based on the individual's own interests. The fact that this path can be continually redrawn over time, however, further complicates the process. Sudden surges of interest in a certain topic, perhaps based on recent events or news items, may cause Autocomplete to generate an entirely new set of suggested searches than were previously available. However, Autocomplete doesn't allow one to go back in time to view what searches were suggested prior to the present circumstances.
To summarize, the extent to which Google's Autocomplete can be explained by DigiPlace is probably unknown. Regardless, we think DigiPlace provides a pretty good heuristic for thinking about the social implications of new web applications like Autocomplete and how the spatio-temporal context of internet activity is very much important in producing our experience of these technologies.
Editor's Note: Taylor apologizes for the lame attempt at a play on words using the title of a seminal Thrift and French paper, "The Automatic Production of Space". He has been appropriately shamed and has been tasked with compiling the autocomplete results for the entire Oxford Unabridged Dictionary in an effort to keep him out of trouble.