Google's launching a new quiz powered by its search engine's skills at finding information, with questions published in The New York Times right above the skill-requiring, brain-taxing crossword puzzle. Either this is some seriously weak-sauce PR, or Google is positioning itself as the puzzle arbiter of the next generation.
"Traditional trivia games have a rule that you can't cheat--you can't look things up in books, you can't ask your fiends and you certainly can't ask Google" begins Google's blog posting about the new A Google A Day quiz. But, it goes on, "what if there were a trivia game where you could not only ask Google, but were encouraged to do so? Imagine how difficult the questions would need to be with the power of the world's information at your fingertips."
Nice point, Google, although we'd have to point out that the point of nearly every quiz or puzzle like this is to tax one's personal mental powers of memory or logical or linguistic reasoning--particularly exemplified in the Times daily crossword puzzle, above which the Google A Day questions will be published. Sure, it may require some dextrous searching (more dextrous each day, if the promise that each puzzle will be harder as the week wears on rings true) but wouldn't people with a broad and deep knowledge of trivia be able to solve the quizzes anyway?
Ultimately, this could be fun. But what the exercise really seems all about is PR--the end of the blog post notes "we hope A Google a Day triggers your imagination and helps you discover all the types of questions you can ask Google--and get an answer." Google is hoping to get readers of the NYT to use Google. Which is odd. Because, on the whole, they already do. Everyone does. Surely Google doesn't need PR like this?
Maybe we can read a bit more into it when you consider that to "prevent spoilers from appearing as you search the web, look for the answers on agoogleaday.com instead of regular google.com--we've made a special version" that excises real-time updates and "other things that are likely to include spoilers as people post the answers to the puzzle online." That's a little more interesting. Agoogleaday.com is a walled-garden for Google. It can be pretty certain that people navigating there are trying to search to find answers to that day's trivia questions--a useful extra variable that Google can use to hone its algorithms to better match how people actually search for data.
Or maybe we're just looking too deeply--and perhaps Google's just trying to grab a bit of the NYT's puzzle glory, and gently position itself as key to the future of intellectual puzzling. After all, the next generation of students are already a bit slapdash about coming up with original research and insight versus just Googling for it, and maybe even the crossword will one day seem archaic.
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[Image by Alan Levine]