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The (Often Amusing) Pitfalls of Auto-Generated Content

I recently came across some great examples of how computer-generated content can deliver bizarre, confusing and even hilarious results.

First up is a CAPTCHA that co-worker Kent Clark encountered on a Twitter account sign-up. (Thanks for sharing, Kent.) Check out the "word" on the right:

Even assuming I know where to find the "pounds" symbol on my North American keyboard, I'm still going to have a heck of a time finding what appears to be a "7/8" character.

My other examples come from Adwords. And whom can we credit for supplying these classic Adwords groaners, but that most venerable of Adwords advertisers, eBay.

Now, I'm used to seeing eBay show up in the sponsored results of most unlikely searches. I've even searched for "life and death" and found eBay ads offering great deals on these events:

Who'd have guessed: apparently even God shops on eBay! (Hey, we're all counting our pennies these days...)

But for me, the funniest example came up when I was researching baby adoption. (No, I'm not in the market. It was research for a client.) Look what eBay offered me:

Wow, I knew eBay had branched out. But they're auctioning off babies now? And how comforting it is to know I can save money on my next baby purchase, by dealing with Canadian sellers!

Funny as these examples are, there is a more serious side to this. Some people may actually click these ads, just to see where they could possibly lead. So you have to wonder: how much money is eBay wasting on ads for products and services they simply don't list?

It appears that eBay is taking huge lists of keywords, then using Dynamic Keyword Insertion and bidding on all of them — without getting rid of keywords that are completely irrelevant to their business! If they actually spent some money optimizing, they could save a bundle.

These are great examples of what can happen when you let computers control your content, and take humans and common sense out of the equation.

Comments (Comment Moderation is enabled. Your comment will not appear until approved.)
Clark Kent explained to me that the list of "Related Blog Entries" was not auto-generated.
# Posted By Brian Katz | 3/20/09 9:09 AM
I agree with you. It sounds funny for humans, but robots and computer don't feel so. Companies like Google can surely spend time to improve coding logic, we do not expect such blunders from a company like Google!


That is another example about such a coding logic.
# Posted By Prakash | 4/22/09 11:37 PM
That is hilarious. I love the flurry of results throughout the 19th century. Looks like Typo3 was pretty popular with the turn of the century French aristocrats.

This just points out a further need for granulated search analysis and better support for foreign languages. It's not just about detecting low quality links, its about better understanding the value of content on a page, so that you don't end up with "powered by Typo3" being read with historical significance.
# Posted By KentC | 4/23/09 8:18 AM