The major search engines are all memorializing the 10th anniversary of 9/11 on their home pages today. Below, a recap, some some reflections on two major ways search engines have changed since that tragic day, in terms of news coverage and disaster help.
Google Home Page
There’s no special logo on Google for the anniversary, which perhaps might have felt out of place. Rather, Google’s gone with a simple, tasteful black ribbon of remembrance and the words “Remembering September 11,” as you can see below:
The link next to the ribbon leads to a post on the Google Blog that covers ways Google is involved with various memorial efforts.
Yahoo Home Page
Yahoo has colored its top box black in honor of the anniversary:
Bing Home Page
Bing uses an image of firefighters holding a US flag during a memorial service for 9/11 held during September 2009:
Search Engines & News On 9/11
Originally, I’d planned a retrospective today on how search engines have changed since that terrible day. I will never forget going to Google and feeling how horrible it was, on top of everything else, that the second listing for a search on “world trade center” was an old link offering the view from the top of the World Trade Center:
The problem was, at the time, Google and all the search engines were incredibly slow to update their listings. Integration of news content was also poor. Google didn’t even have a news search engine. That meant it was hard to get breaking news content quickly in the top results.
Google eventually posted the equivalent of a “Go Away & Turn On Your TV” sign, as it couldn’t provide decent results:
I ended up writing this reflective piece sooner than I expected, on the night news was announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed. If you’d like to understand more about how Google News has helped improve Google’s results since the massive failure 10 years ago, see that piece: Google & The Death Of Osama Bin Laden.
People Finding Services
Everyone has their own story of where they were on 9/11. I watched in horror from England, where I was living at the time. After both towers had collapsed, which I’d watched on television, I eventually went back to work, writing up a piece on how people could use search engines to get news and information.
You can still find that original piece here. It has lots of screenshots of what all the search engines were showing at the time. They were struggling under traffic that was 10 times more than normal, in some cases. The entire web was struggling — news sites could barely stay up.
After my piece was done, I felt pretty useless. But I remember writing to various contacts at the major search engines to see if there was a way they could all come together to perhaps create a people finding service, because so many were trying to find out about their loved ones and had no centralized option to use.
Nothing came from that. But after Hurricane Katrina, both Lycos and Yahoo launched “missing persons” tools that allowed for searching across various missing persons web sites. Since that time, we’ve seen this expand across the major search engines, including Google, after a disaster. It’s a welcome advance but one that let’s hope rarely needs to be used.
Finally, a personal note. As I said, I was living in England at the time the September 11 attacks happened. I found it remarkable, and appreciated, how much support I received from my British friends and colleagues, as well as from others I knew of all nationalities. Thank you.
I just don’t have the words for anyone who did suffer the loss of a friend or family member that day other than to offer my sympathies and condolences on this day of remembrance. However anyone is remembering, please do so, in some way.