Reactor

The Found Poetry of Google Autocomplete

by An Xiao on November 11, 2013

googlepoetics

OAKLAND, Calif. — I wrote recently about micropoetry on Twitter, and how social media enable new forms of expression in the tradition of short form verse (especially Japanese verse). And @horse_ebooks, that spambot-turned-performance-art-project, has inspired not a little bit of poetry during its long existence.

These are all great examples of social media poetry, but what about poetry composed socially and accidentally? Google’s search suggestions have often been used to illustrate the collective biases of a given culture, collective algorithmically based on the most common searches. This was most recently reflected in the UN Women’s ad series based on disturbing search suggestions about women in different countries and contexts.

One of the United Nations ads created by Memac Ogilvy & Mather Dubai (via unwomen.org)

One of the United Nations ads created by Memac Ogilvy & Mather Dubai (via unwomen.org)

But what about poetry? Could our collective searches generate beauty too? I, and presumably 60,000+ others, have been intrigued by Google Poetics, a Twitter account consisting of found poetry from Google search terms. It’s been going for over a year now, and each collection surprises with its simplicity.

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For World Poetry Day, the site featured long-form poetry, captured in compilations of searches, but while they were provocative, it’s the short ones that still catch my eye, as they are the most accidental and least curated (other than the fact that they are chosen for the site). They read like the accidental poetry of Ranjit Bhatnagar’s Pentametron bot, which finds sonnets embedded in the river of tweets each day.

Developed by Sampsa Nuotio and Raisa Omaheimo in Helsinki, Finland, Google Poetics taps into the collective search histories of the English-speaking world. Their appropriately poetic curatorial statement captures this sentiment by viewing search as a deeply private act that is shared between you and Google’s vast data stores. And these searches bubble up to the surface, a snapshot of what everyone’s thinking aloud:

Despite the seemingly open nature of Western society, forbidden questions and thoughts still remain. When faced with these issues, people do not reach out to one another, instead they turn to Google in the privacy of their own homes. The all-knowing search engine accepts and embraces these questions and tangles them with popular song lyrics, book titles and names of celebrities: often with hilarious results.

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  • Jonny Gray

    Oh dear…

  • punktoad

    And the hits just keep on coming
    I am legend
    I am number 4
    I am the one who knocks
    I am second
    I am legend 2

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