Nothing much, according to Google and their new instant search.
Instant search is a neat new addition to Google. Start typing and you’ll see results right away. As you type, results match what you’ve entered so far. So type the word ‘lettuce’ into Google.co.uk and after the ‘le’ you’ll see stuff about the city of Leeds. Add the ‘t’ and Google suggests ‘Letters to Juliet’ with alternatives you can click on that will give different results.
Type in ‘Gone Digital’ and I’m flattered to see that this blog comes near the top, and there’s even a suggestion ‘Gone Digital Blog.’ And all the while, as you type away, the results update on the fly.
Well, almost all the while. Now try slowly typing the word ‘lesbian.’ You’ll see all that stuff about Leeds, and then stuff about Les Miserable. And then when you get to the letter b, it all goes quiet. There are, it seems, no sites that match what you might be typing, and not even any words that Google might like to suggest you’re trying to find. Not the Greek island of Lesbos, or Lesbian.
If you want to search for any of those, you have to finish typing the word, and then press Enter. People have long talked of ‘lesbian invisibility’ (and not in a superhero sort of way), but this is a little extreme on Google’s part.
Gay men fare a bit better, in that Google does actually concede the existence of the word as a search term, but type that ‘y’ after ‘ga’ and once again, there are no results show, unless you click Enter.
This might seem resolutely trivial to some people, but it’s certainly interesting. Malcolm Coles blogged about this earlier – I’m just riding his coat tails – and the reason seems to be that there may be some things that are so unpleasant you don’t want people inadvertently seeing them in partial results. I can understand that.
But what I can’t understand is why, in the 21st century, the top hits for the word ‘Gay’ should be hidden, nor why the word ‘Lesbian’ is likely to unsettle people so much that it can’t even be offered as a search suggestion.
Get your act together, Google!