Pharyngula

Watch out, Google

Microsoft has added everything to a search engine that you’ve missed in Google: long load times, half of the screen space dedicated to flash animation and another quarter just empty charcoal grey, results that are shown 3 at a time and displayed in a light gray font on a distracting pale graphic, and most importantly, the most annoying librarian in the universe, Ms. Dewey, who seems to be there to nag you to type faster and mock you if she doesn’t understand your request.

Is there a prize for the most idiotic abuse of web technology? This deserves a nomination. Unless, of course, it’s actually not a search engine, but a psychological experiment in optimizing interface design to maximize frustration and rage. It’s very good at that.

Comments

  1. #1 King Aardvark
    November 29, 2006

    Holy Shit. That’s the most horrible piece of crap I’ve ever seen.

  2. #2 coturnix
    November 29, 2006

    Even knowing in advance it was supposed to be that way, I STILL got frustrated!

  3. #3 Steve LaBonne
    November 29, 2006

    I hear the Zune is doing great too, not. Microsoft is always good for some comic relief. You have to work hard to be that clueless.

  4. #4 jeffk
    November 29, 2006

    I dunno, I guess she’s kinda hot.

    In any case, has anyone here ever gone to google and gotten a fancied-up page? Fortuantely there’s a link to “google traditional”. I make sure I click it every time in hopes that it’s smart and won’t screw with me anymore. Of course, I’d never actually have to go to the google home page since there’s the mozilla seach bar in the upper right of the window, except it’s like 4 characters wide and I can’t see what I’m typing and it drives me nuts. Who’s designing this stuff? How can millions of dollars go into making obvious mistakes like that? I hate computers.

  5. #5 DouglasG
    November 29, 2006

    It is more proof that things “designed by committee” do not always come out well. Attempting to please all parties ends up not pleasing anyone (outside the committee).

  6. #6 Caledonian
    November 29, 2006

    And not inside the committee, either, if anyone on it has any sense.

    Ah, but how many of you favor society-by-committee?

  7. #7 George
    November 29, 2006

    It’s like that super-annoying paper clip has taken over the entire screen.

    They just put it out there for people to discover. No fanfare. Why? Because it sucks!

  8. #8 Stephen
    November 29, 2006

    It’s like Subservient Chicken, except without the naughty commands

  9. #9 Stephen
    November 29, 2006

    However, if you type in “strip”, she replies “you first”

  10. #10 marlonrh
    November 29, 2006

    jeffk-
    That narrow search box in Firefox bugged me too at first. Its not a difficult fix, though. Look here:
    http://www.tweakguides.com/Firefox_1.html
    and then look in the adv.tweaking pt.3 section. Don’t be put off by “adv.”, its pretty straightforward.

  11. #11 polliwog
    November 29, 2006

    hey ms dewey! show us yer tits

  12. #12 Markus
    November 29, 2006

    Ms Dewey is annoying. But maybe she would relax after a few drinks …

  13. #13 Dave Hone
    November 29, 2006

    Was Ms Dewey with all her flaws not intelligently designed?

    Err, not by the looks of things…..

  14. #14 Keith Wolter
    November 29, 2006

    Not sure how to get her to have a few drinks, but I can say that after I had a few, she was alot less annoying…

    I think of her as an existential, metaphysical avatar of my pent-up impatience and lust. Plus, when I close my eyes and think about her, Deepak Chopra sez it proves God exists.

  15. #15 jeffk
    November 29, 2006

    marlonrh is my hero. Firefox is perfect now.

  16. #16 rwxr-xr--
    November 29, 2006

    I dunno whether to be outraged at the gender politics of this, or to go and try to wash off the feeling of having been dunked in a geek’s wet dream…

  17. #17 Andrew Bolton
    November 29, 2006

    “optimizing interface design to maximize frustration and rage” is Microsoft policy, isn’t it? How else can you explain Powerpoint or Outlook?
    As for web searches, I’ve used Webcrawler for as long as I can remember. It combines searches from other search engines – including Google – without fuss or screen clutter.

  18. #18 BJNicholls
    November 29, 2006

    If you type in “biotch”, she rattles off something backwards. Hey, she’s hotter than the paper clip guy.

    What’s miserable is the amount of space provided for and legibility of the search results area.

    Actually, Microsoft never was good at “user friendly”, so pushing “user unfriendly” to new levels is a good direction for them.

  19. #19 wintermute
    November 29, 2006

    I got rid of the “search bar”, and just use keyword searches in the address bar. So “g dewey decimal system” fires off a Google search, “wiki search engine” runs off to wikipedia for me…

    It means I can search anything from IMDB to AcronymFinder.com without needing to install new “add-ons” (I hate that term – what was wrong with “extension”?), no deed to select my search engine from a drop-down, and a search bar that’s almost the entire width of the screen.

  20. #20 Gaurav
    November 29, 2006

    Yeah. EVERYTHING from Microsoft basically sucks. Sheesh.

  21. #21 llewelly
    November 29, 2006

    I think this is yet another modern UI which demonstrates why people like DaveScott want to believe human beings are intelligently designed.

    As to rwxr-xr–‘s comment, I (a male sw development geek) felt the same way …

  22. #22 Nick Valvo
    November 29, 2006

    Oh my god that scrolling is terrible.

    I think what I just learned is that my usability/web standards fetish is stronger than my sexy librarian fetish. I’m not sure what that should tell me about myself.

  23. #23 Carlie
    November 29, 2006

    Wow. I have never seen anything that bad. I have to assume it’s a parody of a real search engine.
    However, when I entered “pharyngula” she said “well played”.

  24. #24 keiths
    November 29, 2006

    I asked her why she was such an annoying bitch, and she threatened to report me to the Justice Department. I think she’s been hanging out with Dembski.

  25. #25 Hank Fox
    November 29, 2006

    Well, at least we know Artificial Intelligences, once achieved, are likely to be stunningly beautiful.

    On the subject of annoying, I’ve always wanted a computer I can just TURN OFF in a maximum of about 2 seconds. And that would come back on in one. The wait for each is freshly bothersome every time I use my computer.

    Every morning, I turn on my computer then leave the room to do other things while it boots. Then I pop back in briefly to tap Enter, to get through the stupid password screen, then leave the room again for a minimum of five minutes.

    It’s a waste of my friggin’ time, is what it is.

  26. #26 Jeff
    November 29, 2006

    Comparing the Ms. Dewey site to Google’s isn’t fair. A better comparison is Google to http://www.live.com/

    Ms. Dewey looks to be an experimental interface to searching the web, and what you all are discussing here is exactly the responses Microsoft is looking for. Do users like it? Why/why not?

    Microsoft is far from perfect, but no software development company is. (I’m a professional software developer and prefer Microsoft technology. I’m biased but not blind) However, they don’t deserve nearly the level of vitriol I see on the web.

    BTW, I’m not trolling here. If you’re anti-MS feel free to ignore this 🙂 I won’t be jumping in again on this thread.

  27. #27 PZ Myers
    November 29, 2006

    Well, Hank, you need a Mac laptop. I never turn it off. I close the lid, it automatically and instantly goes to sleep. I open the lid, it automatically and instantly wakes up.

    Jeff: But the point is that Ms. Dewey is abominable. It’s an approach no one would consider seriously on even a moment’s consideration. We’re all wondering what the heck MS was thinking when they rolled up that piece of bandwidth-wasting noise…and you know, it doesn’t really look like an inexpensive pilot for some new technology. I somehow doubt that MS is looking for the kinds of responses they’ll be getting from this: MS sucks. MS doesn’t understand the user interface. MS has more money than sense.

  28. #28 sglover
    November 29, 2006

    At last! A worthy successor to Microsoft “Bob”!

  29. #29 Tristram Shandy
    November 29, 2006

    Even with the warning in the post, I must confess I was awestruck by the sheer dumb awfulness of this search engine. It takes everything that’s crappy, kludgy, poorly designed, and irritating about all of Microsoft and distills it into one website. In its way, it is a work of art.

  30. #30 Dave Godfrey
    November 29, 2006

    Given that a awful lot of the websearches I do are for obscure fossil genera/species names why on earth would I want to reduce the number of hits I might get. Especially when half the time I get some extant plant species instead of the extinct (and probably invalid) fish genus I’m actually interested in.

  31. #31 Phobos
    November 29, 2006

    I hear the Zune is doing great too, not.

    The Bad Astronomer touched on this recently…
    http://www.badastronomy.com/bablog/2006/11/26/zunacy/

    And here’s the Zune’s raking over the coals…
    http://www.suntimes.com/technology/ihnatko/147048,CST-FIN-Andy23.article

  32. #32 Greg
    November 29, 2006

    The search is awful, the site is amusing for a short time. Ms. Dewey is nice to look at.

    FYI, she is none other than Janina Gavankar:

    http://www.janinagavankar.com/

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janina_Gavankar

  33. #33 MarkG
    November 29, 2006

    First thoughts “OMG, she’s hot”

    Thirty seconds later “OMG, she’s irritating”

    Looks aren’t everything.

    Also, when I typed in “evolution” she replied with “that’s a tough one. You know, I’m on the fence”.

    Dumb and irritating.

    As I was typing this, Ms Dewy was on another tab. I suddenly heard deep-breathing noises. What she was up to, I don’t know, but she got really rude when I typed in “banana”!

    When I entered “die”, she professed that she didn’t know what I was talking about, and then accused me of being drunk!

  34. #34 Rick @ shrimp and grits
    November 29, 2006

    Well, Hank, you need a Mac laptop. I never turn it off. I close the lid, it automatically and instantly goes to sleep. I open the lid, it automatically and instantly wakes up.

    Or, to be fair, he needs just about any laptop. This isn’t exactly a Mac-specific feature you’re touting, here. 🙂

    But back to Ms. Dewey – is the site supposed to do anything at all other than display “Ms. Dewey is loading”?

  35. the most annoying librarian in the universe, Ms. Dewey,

    Oh, you have no idea how wrong you are.

  36. #36 afterthought
    November 29, 2006

    I tried “solaris 64-bit kernel”,
    and she warned me about software piracy being bad.
    There seems to be some randomness when a query
    is beyond the simple ones that are built in.

  37. #37 jackd
    November 29, 2006

    Tried a search that I’d used yesterday on Google: “How do I find out if my computer has USB 2.0?”. Google’s first hit was perfect. Ms.Dewey gave me three links to product reviews or some such crap. She was muted, I have no idea what kind of commentary I was missing. To make matters even worse, the Flash was apparently slooowwwiinng down my computer so badly it would barely scroll the results, so I just killed the tab altogether.

    The term “craptacular” was made for things like this.

  38. #38 MarkG
    November 29, 2006

    I typed “iraq”, she replied “be prepared; that’s my motto”, then produced a bomb made of several sticks of dynamite! The woman’s a suicide bomber!

    She has also responded to searches with her hands bound, and with a whip!

    With all the insults she offers, I can only assume that the target market for this piece of shite is men who have dominatrix fantasies. It’s certainly not for people who want to search the internet.

  39. #39 MikeM
    November 29, 2006

    Somewhat off-topic: I downloaded IE7 at home.

    Oh, boy. Here it comes. I can hear your heads working.

    It’s awful. Reports I wrote for my website just don’t work on IE7. They worked fine on IE6 and Firefox, but just plain stopped working on IE7.

    My wife tried to upload some photos to Costco last night. Failure. I told her to use Firefox, and that worked perfectly.

    Ms Dewey is a sexist abomination. All I want is to find stuff on the web, and Ms Dewey turns that into a highly distracting, slow, inefficient process. Isn’t that pretty much the opposite of what users want?

  40. #40 Torbjörn Larsson
    November 29, 2006

    If they at least had named the site “o…ogle”. Because that was that I was reduced to while waiting for my laptop to slo…owly close the tab while rebooting from the freeze.

    Why is macrosoft-in-the-heads in search of a search engine? They own the world so much already. And now they own me another 2 minutes.

  41. #41 Torbjörn Larsson
    November 29, 2006

    If they at least had named the site “o…ogle”. Because that was that I was reduced to while waiting for my laptop to slo…owly close the tab while rebooting from the freeze.

    Why is macrosoft-in-the-heads in search of a search engine? They own the world so much already. And now they own me another 2 minutes.

  42. #42 kurage
    November 29, 2006

    Come on, give Ms. Dewey some credit. She beautifully (in a couple of senses of the word) reproduces the irritation, inefficiency, and irrationality of interacting with another human being instead of a computer. She has also eradicated any lingering guilt I might have felt for pirating Windows XP.

    Perhaps Microsoft really meant her as a clever aversion training tool? Ms. Dewey teaches us the folly of seeking out human company, and encourages us to stay huddled in the warm, safe glow of our monitors.

    (Oh, and one more thing to add to an already lengthy list of faults: Ms. Dewey does not seem to be Japanese compliant. Why the hell would I want a search engine that can only handle the Roman alphabet?)

  43. #43 Corey Schlueter
    November 29, 2006

    Funny searches:
    “booty”, “kill”, “ms. dewey”, “police”, & “photo”

  44. #44 Andy King
    November 29, 2006

    Yikes, typical MS

    speaking of long load times, I just posted a summary of an article on the interactive effects of website delay, breadth, and familiarity. The researchers found that that site breadth and familiarity can compensate for slow load times.

    The Interactive Effects of Website Delay, Breadth, and Familiarity for more.

    – Andy

  45. #45 Smart_Cookie
    November 29, 2006

    Hey – at least most of you HEARD what that piece of you-know-what was saying.

    I opened it at work – where they’ve removed the speakers, etc. No sound. She looks REALLY lame just mouthing off stuff.

    Agreed…it’s a pathetic, slow waste of my time.

  46. #46 Kristine
    November 29, 2006

    Whoa!

    I put in (I should just leave the poor guy alone) “William Dembski.”

    Ms. Dewey thinks, pouts, then pulls out a long baton! “Like I always say, a girl’s gotta be prepared.” Snap! goes the baton into her palm as the links appear. (!!!)

    Hey, Ms. Dewey, hands off! Vengeance is mine! Okay fine, so I’m not an insipidly perfect supermodel. But whatever happened to “Sssshhhhh”?

  47. #47 Jud
    November 29, 2006

    ‘Sokay, with Vista’s new security features (I’ve been testing betas and release candidates), you won’t have to worry about wasting time getting results – the results page will have long since loaded by the time you’re done answering questions, closing dialogs and popup toolbars, etc., etc.

    …until you get rid of all the security features and wait for the viruses and spyware to hit (unless you’ve got a hardware firewall).

    Actually, you won’t have to worry about much of anything to do with the Web once you’ve got Vista, if my experience is any indication. After I installed one of Microsoft’s own keyboards (Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000, the most comfortable keyboard I’ve ever used by a wide margin), Vista reacted by waiting 5 minutes, then uninstalling the driver for my Ethernet card. Every time I’ve booted up Vista since then, wait 5 minutes, the Ethernet card is magically uninstalled and no more Internet access.

    The incredible thing is that MS stuff does ‘evolve’ from such primitive beginnings to versions most people are reasonably content to use. Remember the first IE vs. Netscape? (I still don’t use IE, except to try out IE7 in Vista – it’s Opera 99% of the time, once in a while Firefox just to check it out.) Before that, the first versions of Word vs. Word Perfect? This version of a search page leaves MS quite a hill to climb, but I wouldn’t put money against a usable product in a year or two.

  48. #48 Warren
    November 29, 2006

    Yeah. EVERYTHING from Microsoft basically sucks. Sheesh.
    Posted by: Gaurav

    Ahem.

    Xbox 360.

    And Microsoft Foundry, specifically this product of theirn.

    Apart from that, yeah, everything they do sucks.

  49. #49 RabidChipmunk
    November 29, 2006

    The only kind of person I can think of who would remotely find this abomination unto search engines enjoyable is the 35-year-old gamer living in mommy’s basement. I so want to bitch-slap Ms. Dewey right now.

  50. #50 Gerard Harbison
    November 29, 2006

    Oh come on, PZ, it’s clear you’re just afraid of strong virtual women.

    (Ducking)

  51. #51 MikeM
    November 29, 2006

    Well, it looks like MsDewey isn’t a MSFT creation after all… EVB in San Francisco. They’re just using Microsoft software.

    http://whois.domaintools.com/msdewey.com

    But IE7 is still junk.

  52. #52 Kristine
    November 29, 2006

    Okay, so this time I googled–uh, I microsofted (?) myself.

    Ms. Dewey clasps hands behind back and swings shoulders sweetly (while looking like she’s trying to suck a tootsie roll from between her teeth).

    A microscope appears (cool!) and she peers into it. “Uh-huh, just as I thought! A raging case of mid-life crisis.”

    !!!

    What did I ever do to this virtual snark muffin, I ask you? What’s with the ‘tude?

    Ms. Dewey–scarier than Ann Coulter. (Okay, maybe not quite.)

  53. #53 DingoDave
    November 29, 2006

    I went to the search page, and before it had even finished loading, I got a message which said:

    “Internet explorer has encountered a problem and needs to close. We apologise for any inconvenience. Do you wish to send an error report?

    I don’t think that I’ll be in any screaming rush to use it again

  54. #54 Gene Blender
    November 29, 2006

    Whew. Tough gig for the talented Ms. Gavankar.

    Who else thinks she selected as much for her strikingly neutral racial/ethnic appearance as for her beauty and intelligence? Put her in a gene blender with Halle Berry and Kristin Kreuk and you’ll have a brown-skinned beauty who is no less than 33%… Dutch… lol.

  55. #55 Gavn
    November 29, 2006

    I use a mathematical typesetting called progarm called TeXShop based on LaTeX. It hasn’t been updated in a while, so I asked Ms. Dewey about “Latex for Mac.” She put on a latex glove and gave me a look. Somebody put a lot of time into this.

  56. #56 Kseniya
    November 29, 2006

    Yes, a lot of time, but she’s no Adam Selene if you know what I mean.

    There is some variation. I put in “Janina Gavankar” and she gave me the “well played” response. I put in “Pharyngula” and she said, “I didn’t understand a word you’ve said!” and then started talking backwards, at which point the Flash player hung up and I was forced to refresh the page. Oops.

  57. #57 Warren Terra
    November 29, 2006

    It’s really, irritatingly slow, and the search engine is unbelievably bad. But some of the search results can be fun, especially if you parrot back her snarky responses. I can’t tell why, but a lot of time and effort has gone into this. A list of the better responses I got; note that several give additional answers with repeated searches:
    bling (may require more than one search)
    police
    ricardo (the name of the intern character)
    woman of my dreams
    aliens
    question
    flash
    art
    letting your dog type
    birth
    beat me up for my lunch money
    Al Qaeda (Curiously, nothing is coded for Bin Laden).

  58. #58 Caledonian
    November 29, 2006

    Its purpose is to attract people who will try it out of curiousity, not to perform searches.

  59. #59 Maronan
    November 29, 2006

    I Dewey’d “God” and got a great response!

  60. #60 Maronan
    November 29, 2006

    Add-on to previous comment: Do it several times. There are multiple responses.

  61. #61 Ed Darrell
    November 29, 2006

    Ask Ms. Dewey if she’ll go out with you. Or flash for you.

    With the multiple responses, some are bound to be funny.

  62. #62 Ian H Spedding FCD
    November 29, 2006

    For some strange reason, I am reminded of a little exchange from the movie Tomorrow Never Dies:

    Carver is based largely on two real-life media moguls: Ted Turner, former owner CNN; and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.[citation needed] A jab at Gates and Microsoft is made early in the film, when Carver inquires about his new computer software:
    Tech:As requested, it’s full of bugs, which means people will be forced to upgrade for years.
    Carver:Outstanding.

    From the Wikipedia entry on Bond villain “Elliot Carver”

  63. #63 Doctor Memory
    November 29, 2006

    Also, when I typed in “evolution” she replied with “that’s a tough one. You know, I’m on the fence”.

    That’s actually one of “her” stock answers to search queries that don’t have a special animation attached to them. If you search for “evolution” multiple times, “she” will rotate between the stock phrases.

    For what it’s worth, I work for, um, a competing search engine company, and thought this was cute, but it seemed pretty instantly obvious to me that the purpose of this wasn’t to be useful as a search engine, but just to be a “demo reel” for some exceedingly clever Flash programmer.

  64. #64 Casey
    November 29, 2006

    I typed in “bondage” (due to MarkG’s comment) and she picked up a helmet, told me “Safety first. And be sure to get it on film!”

    And now she’s saying “Hello!?! Type something here!” Damn she’s annoying as hell!

  65. #65 Casey
    November 29, 2006

    I thought I’d also add that one of the most frustrating thing was she assumes I’m a man. (i’m not.)

  66. #66 A lemur
    November 29, 2006

    well, when I typed in bondage she held up a large rubber mallet and said, ‘It’s a girls best friend.’

    I think I’m in love.

    Seriously, she’s very good, there’s some fairly funny riffs that pop up occasionly when you reload the page. Kinda subverts the concept of a functional search engine, but then, I’ve never spent the better part of an evening typing random phrases into google…

    To which Ms. Dewey says, ‘you’re a sad, pathetic little man and you need to get a life.’

    Wow. She is good.

  67. #67 MJ Memphis
    November 30, 2006

    Interesting. Type in “God” and she is “on the fence”. “Buddha” got me an inquiry as to whether I was trying to drunk dial. And “Theravada” caused her to talk backwards.

  68. #68 Dustin
    November 30, 2006

    Agh! Holy Shit! That was epic suckage. No one can feign agnosticism now — the existence of that piece of crap PROVES that there is no God.

    It’s that bad.

  69. #69 False Prophet
    November 30, 2006

    I remember playing with more useful bots 4 years ago in library school. Even if they weren’t quite as attractive as Ms. Dewey.

  70. #70 MikeM
    November 30, 2006

    You know, the more I think about msdewey, the more I think it’s pure genius.

    Folks, it’s not meant to be a real search engine.

    Instead, it combines performance art with some pretty darned cool database programming. Macromedia Flash is neat software; surely someone out there can second that. Each of our searches causes a database search, which returns a Flash video. One of the seriously fun results I got was “George W Bush”. If you haven’t tried that one, do so.

    The reason MSFT didn’t announce this is that someone is merely (mis)using the search engine MSFT has available. But the search results are secondary. It’s more like, in this case, an extremely well done demo of the power of Flash.

    I think it’s way, way cool. I feel pretty silly that I didn’t immediately get the joke. This is darned near as funny as Colbert.

    Hate to say it, but if someone in the know has been reading our responses today, they’re laughing at us.

    The only thing that bugs me about this is the people who ACTUALLY developed it do not say who they are. I found out who they are (see my second post, above), but you have to dig. That’s a little dishonest. I actually think MSFT has the right to be unhappy about that.

    Other than that, home run.

  71. #71 Andrew
    November 30, 2006

    Seems to be a demo of what you can do with web services interfacing with Live search, similar to interfacing with Google maps for a real estate site.

    Not really practical but a pretty bravura example of the what one might do in the Web 2.0 world

  72. #72 A lemur
    November 30, 2006

    MikeM has it exactly right, it’s really a brillant piece of work. I’ve done a fair amount of flash development and have a pretty good idea of how they put this together and I’m still impressed.

    I thought it was pretty funny. Kudo’s to whoever put this out. Not sure if MSFT is being misused, exactly, nowhere on Ms. Dewey do they claim to be Microsoft, and while they’re posting results from the MS search engine, options exist for incorporating search capabilities into web sites. Since they’ve got the cash to lay out for a considerable amount of Ms. Gavankar’s time, they may have licensed access to the search engine. In any case, as someone remarked, it comes more under the heading of performance art than anything else.

    Good fun. Silly, but good fun

  73. #73 ROF
    November 30, 2006

    W/ Safari, it’s fun to play w. I don’t see any serious slowness at all.
    o
    o

  74. #74 Caledonian
    November 30, 2006

    There’s a special response just for ‘Janina Gavankar’.

  75. #75 Keith Douglas
    December 2, 2006

    sglover: Precisely. This is Bob, with photorealistic graphics.

    That said, yes, it is a proof-of-concept of something else, not a search engine.

    Also, I looked up “annoying user interfaces” and don’t seem to have gotten much.

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