The power of suggestion

This was published more than 13 years ago

Attitudes and opinions change and evolve.

You know that feeling you get when you stumble upon something you wrote in the distant past and it's terrible? There are many cringe-worthy bits of immature writing on this website (and I'm probably still creating more).

As well as the mere cringe-worthy, there are also opinions and attitudes expressed that I no longer hold and am, frankly, embarrassed by. (Please don't go looking, they're deliberately hard to find, but left for the sake of posterity.)

I hope if you've stumbled across some here, you'll give me the benefit of the doubt.

I remember the day in primary school when I was taught that I make hundreds of decisions each day, and mostly without even thinking about it. I remember almost being surprised to realise that choosing what to have for breakfast was all it took to make a decision - often it doesn’t even take that much thought.

Twenty something years on and I think I’m only just realising the extent to which suggestion plays a part when making these hundreds or thousands of micro-decisions which when strung together tell the narrative of our days. The power of suggestion probably plays a much larger role in shaping our lives than most people realise, or would care to admit. Independent thought is something most of us both value very highly and equally take for granted, but probably exercise less frequently than we imagine.

A few years ago Google introduced Google Suggest into our lives and instantly made search easier, faster and far more interesting. The suggestions Google supplies can be any combination of fascinating, scary, sad, poetic, funny and plenty more.

Recently I found the most fascinating use yet of the data supplied by Google Suggest called Web Seer. When I found it ((Regrettably, I don’t recall where I found it.)), I immediately lost an hour playing about looking for patterns and voyeuristic insights into others’ lives. Then I wanted to do something more with the Google Suggest data (and I’d been looking for an excuse to play with Raphaël) - so was born What Do You Suggest.

What Do You Suggest

I’ve already spent hours exploring on For some reason I just keep wanting to come back to have another play. If you haven’t tried it out yet, this is what you can expect:

When you load up the site it tells you to Start Here - or - choose from one of word, letter or question. From there, it takes whatever you’ve given it and gives back Google’s suggestions for the next word in your sentence.

The suggested words appear in the order in which Google suggests them and are each connected by a line of varying thickness representing the number of search results you could expect if you did a Google search on the phrases which that word, its predecessors and ancestors in the tree would create.

The suggestions provided by Google Suggest represent real searches which in all likelihood have been performed millions of times each by people from all around the world.

Some emerging patterns

There are some recurring themes which have emerged as I’ve been playing with the site during its creation. Among other things, it seems people do rather a lot of searching on the topics of music, religion and relationships.

Sometimes the results are sad, like the people searching for free ebooks on relationships for dummies, and sometimes hopeful like looking for love.

Health is also a recurring theme with the names of medicines, diseases and symptoms appearing over and over again.

Differences and similarities are often highlighted between males and females.

What next?

Next, I’m hoping that plenty of people find it as fascinating as I have. As part of the experiment, I’m recording little bits of data about how people use the site and what paths they choose to explore. If you want to see the results, subscribe to this site’s RSS feed or follow me on Twitter.

I hope you’ll take the time to explore, and please do let me know if you find anything amazing.