A few of weeks ago now, I installed a new widget on this page that records where (it thinks) my readers are located, where they come from, and what links they click when they're here.
It's fascinating reading, although slightly dispiriting that I don't get visited nearly as often as I should. But among other things, it lets me see what people were searching Google for when my blog popped up.
An uncommon lot of people - well, half a dozen at least - seem to have been drawn here by the picture included in my unflattering review of Watchmen. I wonder if they were disappointed when they didn't find a full online version of the comic. (If so, tough. I don't support digital piracy.)
Recently there was some poor sap from Miami searching for "the science of karma", and they were apparently so disappointed that they must've complained to Google, because my post of that name currently doesn't show up at all in a search for that phrase.
Then last week there was someone searching for "Mr Darcy is all politeness" (without quotes). I wonder what they were looking for.
I know what they found, though. Apparently, if you Google for a random text from Pride & Prejudice, the number one result you get is the "Google Books" edition of the text.
I don't know if you're familiar with Google Books. It's a stupid idea, the misbegotten offspring of an idiot's compromise between Google and the major publishers whereby Google gets to "publish books" online. By way of throwing a bone to the copyright Gestapo, Google agreed to leave out some pages in these works, the theory being that people should be allowed to search the text online but not able to read it. The choice of pages omitted depends on what you searched for. (It also, I've discovered in the course of researching this, varies from one day to the next. Last week I could page all the way through the book, with some random omissions such as p.145; this week, it's skipping directly from p.60 to the back cover.)
The irony being, of course, that Pride & Prejudice is not a copyright work. Not unless Jane Austen lived to be 200 years old, anyway. Anyone can reproduce this text as many times as they like; rewrite, repackage, adapt, perform, distribute, sell, loan or hire it, or any original work they may derive from it, completely at will. That's how Wordsworth Classics (Google's edition) were entitled to publish it in the first place; for them now to assert copyright over the text is indefensible, and should be illegal if it's not already.
But I digress. My real point here is that no human being in their senses would search for the Google Books edition of this work, because it's fecking useless. Instead, they could look for the Gutenberg version, which is easier to read, easier to search, and complete. And one hundred per cent legal to distribute in every country I know of, unless of course it meets someone's idea of obscenity...
And yet that page doesn't show up at all in the first page of Google results when searching for the text.
Ten years ago, Google became famous for its motto: "Don't be evil". "Evil" was always somewhat nebulously defined, but it was commonly understood as contrasting with Microsoft's standard operating practice of abusing every part of its business to give various (arguably) unfair advantages to every other part, generally at the expense of its own users. But it's hard to see the above Google result in any other light. The top result for the search is the one that's least useful for the user, and most profitable for Google.