While writing up my review on François Mauriac‘s Thérèse Desqueyroux (Therese; later: Therese Desqueyroux), I decided to check whether Google, in its wisdom, had indexed my previous entries on Mauriac. With the language setting to English only and searching François Mauriac, I got 729 hits, with the proviso, after the last one, In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to the 729 already displayed. I looked at every one of those hits (yes, really!) and there was no page from my website. Google has indexed my Mauriac page for, if I search François Mauriac site:themodernnovel.org, I get five hits – the author page, reviews of the first two of his novels that I reviewed (the other two have not yet made it to Google) and three other pages where François and Mauriac appear. I do get hits for my blog page which mentions and links to these pages (and which is on a different url), which is strange). If I narrow down the search to François Mauriac Le Baiser au lépreux (A Kiss for the Leper) , my website comes sixth overall (out of 235 hits), ahead of Wikipedia and ahead of my blog post on the book (which comes sixteenth), so clearly Google has not banned me.
Obviously, a small site like mine should not appear top in Google rankings. But let’s look at what it is compared with other pages on Mauriac. My webpage has a brief bio, a comprehensive bibliography of his books in both French and English, references to two books about him and links to thirteen other sites about him and reviews of currently four, though then two, of his books. Here is what the top ten, according to Google, are:
- 1. Wikipedia. Detailed bio and bibliography. Fewer links. No books about him
- 2. Nobel Prize site. Brief bio. Works in French and separate list of works in English. His Nobel speeches.
- 3. Britannica. Bio. No biblio. References to books about him.
- 4. Paris Review interview
- 5. Eternal Word Television Network interview
- 6. IMDB page on films of his book
- 7. Wikiquote page with seven quotes from him and his works
- 8. biography.com bio of about 100 words plus photo plus (very) brief facts. No biblio; indeed only mention of one of his novels
- 9. Goodreads quote page. Ten in English and one in Italian. None in French
- 10. Amazon UK page of his books for sale on their site. I am in the UK. Presumably people from other countries would get Amazon US or another appropriate Amazon
Google also has its brief summary of Mauriac (see photo above at right).
This is pathetic. I hate to sound as though I am beating my own drum but… If I am searching for Mauriac (without qualification), I probably want an idea of who he is, what he did, what he wrote and so on. You will find this information (if you only read English) on the Wikipedia site, the Nobel Prize site, enotes and my site. At least I think so because, as my site does not appear in the Google listings, are there other worthwhile sites that are not appearing as well? The answer is, of course, that we do not know. The other eight sites on the first page of the Google page give scant biographical and no bibliographical information (Britannica, biography.com); quotes (Wikiquote; Goodreads) – if I wanted quotes, I would have searched for François Mauriac quotes; interviews (Paris Review and Eternal Word Television Network (whoever they may be) – if I wanted interviews, I would have searched for François Mauriac interviews; films of his books (Imdb) – if I wanted… you know the rest and books of his for sale – if had wanted to buy his books, I would have gone straight to Amazon or another book search site. This is not worrying because it is not showing my site (though that is somewhat worrying) but it is worrying because when I search for other things, be it books or how to repair my lawnmower, am I getting the best results? Answer, almost certainly: no. Why are these sites so highly rated? Well, clearly several of these are very well-known sites, with a well-established web presence and used by thousands of people a day. Even then, Google fails to give the relevant pages. Neither Wikiquote nor the Goodreads quote page should have been high on a basic search for François Mauriac. The same applies to IMDB, Paris Review and the Eternal Word Television Network. Page two, by the way, has four more Amazon links (two from the US, two from the UK), two identical bios from freedictionary.com, quotes from brainyquote.com, another page from the Nobel Prize, a bio from answers.com and a page from the Bordeaux tourist office with a brief bio and where he lived.
What about the other search engines? Yahoo does slightly better than Google. It has the enotes.com, kirjasto.sci.fi and answers.com pages on is first page. My review of Génitrix is No 141 and the front page of my blog No 389 (out of 546). No reference to my main page on Mauriac or any of the blog reviews. Bing is similar to Yahoo and, in fact, has my review of Génitrix at No 142 and the front page of the blog at 460. Another of my blog posts (not about Mauriac) comes way down the list. And that’s it. Duckduckgo seems more akin to Google but it has one of my blog reviews relatively high up (as it uses continuous page scrolling I cannot easily tell how far up). AskJeeves seemed to be very similar to Google. All this leads me to the conclusion, which, of course, I have known for a long time, that search enginees are not yielding the results we are really looking for. All too often when I search for an author, I get presented with sites selling his books instead of sites about him. All too often, when checking up on lawnmower repair or something similar, I get results for another product or for some service in another country. I remember in the early days of the web, when Yahoo was a site that was like a catalogue so that you could search Literature>France>Authors>Mauriac and get all the relevant sites on Mauriac (there almost certainly were very few). Those days have long since gone and are clearly impractical given the size of the web today but there must be another way. Come in, Google, your time is up. Time for a new model and a new player.