Did Google kill a … donkey?

030316blog donkey google did not kill

Screen capture from Google Street View showing donkey at center of 2013 kerfuffle.

Credit: Google Street View

A few days ago I needed to know whether Google had actually killed a particular product or merely put it on a back burner, so I typed into the company’s search-engine box: “Did Google kill …”

What happened next is seen in this screen capture:

030316blog did google kill a donkey

Gobsmacked, I was. Did Google kill a donkey?

In a hoofbeat my interest in that work-related query was gone, replaced by an irresistible need to know whether – and, if so, why – Google had treated some poor donkey worse than a brute might treat a rented mule.

Thankfully, such was not the case, at least according to a blog post Google was compelled to publish on Jan. 16, 2013:

Over the last 24-hours concerned members of the public and the media have been speculating on the fate of a donkey pictured in Street View in the Kweneng region of Botswana.

Because of the way our 360-degree imagery is put together, it looked to some that our car had been involved in an unseemly hit and run, leaving the humble beast stranded in the road.

Not stranded, as in forced to hitch a ride, but stranded dead, as in Monty Python’s famous parrot. Google continues:

As our imagery below shows, the donkey was lying in the path - perhaps enjoying a dust bath - before moving safely aside as our car drove past. I’m pleased to confirm the donkey is alive and well.

So, too, are we all, presumably.

But questions remain, even three years later … make that especially three years later.

As I understand Google’s autocomplete feature, it is designed to guess the searching public’s most likely intentions and provide prospective results at a glance in roughly some order of the likelihood they are being sought. And this means that someone typing “Did Google kill” is most likely interested in finding out if Google killed a donkey, according to Google.

How can that be? As you see in the screen capture above, Google users are intent on finding out if Google has been responsible for killing any number of things, including public relations, social media marketing, search engine optimization, and a deer, though I suspect the latter could be a mistaken relation to the donkey business. Moreover, Google is known for its propensity for killing off myriad products and services it has deemed failures, so much so, in fact, that media outlets such as this one collect the carcasses into slideshows with telling headlines like: “Google Graveyard: What Google has killed off in 2015.”

Yet it’s a donkey, which Google did not even invent, that gets top billing by Google autocomplete.

By now I am sure that some of you are screaming, “Of course it’s the donkey, you jackass, because the donkey story was BIG NEWs that got covered by EVERYONE. How did YOU miss it?”

And it’s true that the story did get plenty of coverage back in January of 2013, as searching on “Did Google kill a donkey” brings back pages of related results.

Yet I did miss it, obviously, despite a well-established professional appetite for this type pseudo-news. Show me an instance of a major technology company being accused of heartlessly snuffing out a helpless farm animal and I’m usually all over it. Maybe I had that day off.

Still unsatisfied, I sent an email to seven veteran colleagues – news hounds, all – asking them if they were aware that Google had been accused of killing a donkey back in 2013. Answers: No, no, no, no, no, no, and, hell, no. (Pro tip: Next time you’re tempted to say, “Everybody knows that,” don’t, because not everybody knows that.)

Maybe Google simply prefers to have autocomplete focus on the donkey it didn’t kill instead of all that stuff that it really did.

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