The ‘Croesus test’ applied to the Oracles of our day

Posted on 25/03/2010

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Almost 2,500 years ago, Croesus, king of Lydia, decided to test the oracles of the ancient world to discover which gave the most accurate information. He sent out emissaries to seven sites who were all to ask the oracles on the same day what the king was doing at that very moment.

Light’s Knights decided to apply the same criteria when testing the oracles of  2010; the 7 biggest search engines (using Nielsen Ratings from Feb 2010). The results were as telling as they must have been 2,500 years ago. In Croesus test it was the Oracle at Delphi who was correctly reporting that the King was ‘making a lamb-and-tortoise stew’.

We also wanted to test our Oracles of the modern day to see what our King was up to right now, agreeing that the closest thing to a modern day King-of-the-known-world was President Barack Obama.

So, we simply entered the sentence “What is Barack Obama doing right now?” into all 7 search engines, and this is the info that was suggested to us in the first, non-sponsored, line:

Google: Said ‘he’s ‘playing basketball’ (highly unlikely at 5am)

Yahoo: Explained what Obama is setting out to do during his next 1033 days in office.

Bing: Referred to a link from 23 December 2009 about the Health Reform.

AOL:  Said he ‘playing basketball’ (see above)

ASK: Said ‘Obama is now the President of the United States.’ (it may be dry, but it’s pretty accurate)

MyWebSearch: Said he ‘is doing nothing right now’, referring to an article from 23 November 2009.

Comcast Search:  Said he ‘”is doing nothing right now’ (see above)

It is pretty clear to us that ASK.com provided the most accurate fact, in that it can not be disputed. It may not be very over informative, but neither is it incorrect. It also shows how important it is to phrase the search query in the most effective way, depending on what search engine you use, and to make sure the most suitable search engine is used for your specific question.

We were surprised and worried about how far down the list of search engines we had to go in order to obtain the most accurate information, and this raises questions; have we become lazy and simply choose Google by default, relying on an algorithm that is primarily based on interconnected web links as opposed to information that comes from credible, publicly scrutinized sources? Is the very foundation of the ongoing search for Truth, i.e. the un-assembled pieces of virtual information strewn across the planet, at risk of becoming assembled by computer code with little or know transparency?

At Light’s Knights we would like to hear from journalists who have encountered problems with search engines in their quest for credible information, and suggestions on which search engines are suitable for what kind of query in order to provide the community with the sharpest tools for their every day tasks.

P.I.L.

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