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Are searches on Google Books personalized?

November 16, 2013

Can I ask for your help in a quick experiment? Go to the front page of Google Books. Search for “even although” in quotes. Do you get an Isabel Hapgood translation of Turgenev as the second result (or one of the top results)?

I tried that search because of Languagehat’s post on the mostly obsolete “even although.” For me Hapgood was second, and I’m curious whether that’s a coincidence or something about how Google Book Search works. Does Google remember that I’ve used their site to look at Hapgood’s translations, or does it give me Turgenev first because it’s classified me as Russian? I logged out of my Google account and still got Hapgood, but I’m not sure if that’s significant.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. vikathoria permalink
    November 16, 2013 8:18 pm

    1st hit: Pharmaceutical journal
    2nd hit: Life of James Hamilton
    3rd hit: a Practical Manual of the Nyunja Language
    no Turgenev on the first page at all…

  2. between4walls permalink
    November 16, 2013 9:24 pm

    I don’t get it either, despite having looked up the Hapgood translation of Les Miserables on googlebooks a bunch of times. Same exact results as vikathoria.

  3. Alex permalink
    November 17, 2013 4:08 am

    1st The Design and Construction of Steam Turbines: A Manual for the Engineer
    2nd The Nude: The Cultural Rhetoric of the Body in the Art of Western Modernity

    13th The Novels and Stories of Iván Turgénieff: Fathers and children

  4. November 17, 2013 11:04 am

    I got the same results as vikathoria. No Turgenev on the first three pages.

  5. November 17, 2013 1:36 pm

    Thank you, everyone! So out of five people, we get three different sets of results, with one set coming up three times. A while ago I signed up for Google Plus to comment on the blog Тетрадки, and since then Google has been giving me menus in Russian on all its sites. Maybe that’s a factor, or maybe it has to do with search history from a particular computer or IP address?

    Given that it’s not the same for everyone, I’m now wondering why it is the same for some people, since presumably we’ve all searched for different things. Maybe it’s a single variable rather than the full history? (Say, it’s the language Google uses with each of us, and we happen to have three English, one Russian, and one other represented so far? But if that’s the case, I’m surprised my results didn’t change when I signed out of my Google account.)

  6. November 18, 2013 8:28 am

    Mine is very different: no Turgenev, no pharma, no turbines. But lots of links to sites about grammar and usage, including languagehat’s post from two days ago. I suspect this is because I have dictionary sites open all day, for translating.

    • November 18, 2013 8:30 am

      Are you sure you were doing a Google Books search? It sounds like the results of a regular Google search.

      • November 18, 2013 8:33 am

        Damn! I did the search and then forgot to click through to books! So the same: pharma, Hamilton, Nyanja, customer contracts, Machiavellism… but no Turgenev.

  7. November 18, 2013 9:39 am

    I just tried doing the search again with an “incognito window” on Chrome, and this time got the same results as Lizok (and most others): pharma, Hamilton, Nyanja, consumer contracts, Machiavellism.

    In a normal window on Chrome I was back to my old results: Freedom of Expression, The Novels and Stories of Iván Turgénieff: Fathers and children, trans. Hapgood, and Лучшие романы сестер Бронте/The best of the Brontë sisters (Иностранный язык: учимся у классиков).

  8. Stephen Bullon permalink
    November 20, 2013 9:14 am

    Coming in late to this… I’m in the UK (if that makes a difference) and got:
    Life of James Hamilton
    Fairness in consumer contracts
    A Digest of the law relative to Pleading and Evidence
    The Sword of the Lord
    American Annual Register for the Years

    No Turgenev, and Alex’s Nudes didn’t reveal themselves till the fifth screen, in 45th place

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