With Intent to Annoy
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March 26, 1997|
What, exactly, are the millions of people who use the Internet looking for? One can get an inkling by visiting Search Voyeur, where a sampling of the requests made on the Magellan Internet Guide search engine are put on display as they happen. Magellan's description of Search Voyeur makes the feature sound useful and innocuous; they claim it gives "insight into the concerns and interests of fellow surfers." But the name "voyeur," with all its negative connotations, is a self-fulfilling prophecy: watching the rotating list of search requests (each of which is linked to the results of the search so that one can follow along in the footsteps of the searcher) is often a much more sordid experience than Magellan may have intended.
Not surprisingly, a high percentage of searches have to do with sex. Many of these are predictable (though often misspelled) searches for nude pictures and various body parts; some are more unusual, such as "nude celebrities" and "Gidget goes erotic"; and others are disturbing and cause one to wonder what Magellan's users (and those on other search engines) are up to. Then again, so do non-sex-related requests such as "breaking passcode entry," "arsenic," and "patriot missile."
Of course, not all the searches one sees in Voyeur are cause for concern. Some requests tend toward the practical ("stripping paint from wood," "army personnel management for executives," and "Russian mail order brides"), others merely toward the strange ("Alaskan nudist" and "virtual Elmo").
Why does Magellan make Search Voyeur available, other than for the general public's amusement? Magellan claims that Search Voyeur is geared toward "Internet users and marketers," and the company likely sells ads based on the kinds of searches people conduct. But this sort of information doesn't need to be broadcast on the Internet to be available to marketers. Marketers, for that matter, might well be deterred from advertising on Magellan once they see for themselves that the interests of a large portion of users can't be addressed on a mainstream site. Search Voyeur is more probably just a savvy ploy to draw consumers to the Magellan search engine. Whatever the reason for the site's existence, being a Magellan voyeur is the best way -- save hiring a market researcher -- to find out what the vast community on the Internet is doing. The answer is enlightening, if not encouraging.
Copyright © 1997 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.