Search engines still don't know what it is, or more to the point where it's @

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2009/09/23 10:01 -04:00, original URI:

I do try my best know what it is, and where it's at, as this makes me seem more in touch with things, you know?

The other day, Joe asked:

A friend of mine asked me the following question and I don't know, so I thought I'd see if anyone in here had an idea.

"For some reason I get a list of font names beginning with @ in my font selection dialog (CFontDialog) on Vista, these fonts don't work correctly if I use them, any idea what they are?"

Search engines don't seem to let you search for @ so it makes searching for a solution rather difficult.

Wow, where to start, huh?

Well obviously I could talk about the vertical fonts and point to blogs like Let's get vertical and Rotate it when vertical? or even the more memorable ones for me like Expertise isn't always everything (aka When the one who is learning teaches us something important) -- the great @Arial blog! -- that were great professional relationship forming things (I still work with that team and they remain kick ass and cool with their simultaneously naive yet insightful take on issues!).

But I've already talked about that.

I was actually thinking about Tod Neilsen when I saw this, if you must know.

A former marketing VP at Microsoft who I have known for years via MS Access, he wrote a very nice foreword for my book (other, less important things he has been doing: he has also been an Oracle VP and a Crossgain principal and a Borland CEO and now runs VMWare).

One thing people don't tend to think about in association with him is how he managed to inspire fundamental changes in search engines.

Under his watch as the VP of marketing in the Developer Division they took the awful NGWS (Next Generation Web Services) message from Steve Ballmer's first CEO address back in 1999 and transform it into the language that became known as managed code: the .NET Framework, the C# language, and so on.

Now nearly 10 years later one has to wonder if the thought that the search industry had to change some of its fundamental algorithms to properly distinguish conversations about .Net from the second most popular generic top level domain or add the hash mark/pound sign (#) to mean something much more prominent than it was so as to pick up on C# helped Tod smile now and again as all the Crossgain hoopla was going on. :-)

As mischievous as all of that may seem from the other end of the telescope (ooooh! song title!), Joe's question about the @ fonts had me realize how lame all of the current Search technologies are about the @ sign -- both Bing and Google suck as they ignore it in a way that cannot be escaped or overridden -- a fact that really delayed the time before anyone was able to get good information about the vertical font feature.

And as Joe's experience shows, this experience still kind of blows. In almost every search engine.

Now I often complained in the past that neither Live (now Bing) nor Google really handles my blog all that well -- ref: Google doesn't seem to get blogs and others -- and they still kind of suck in some important ways.

But the fact that they can't handle the @ really proves that they don't understand Twitter either, given its fundamental importance there.

Now Unicode has on at least one occasion had to dissuade in response to a proposal a particular language's use of the @ as a letter in their orthography given the strong usage of it as a symbol and its behavior in search engines, which makes it all the more ironic that Twitter could succeed where even email addresses and teenage IM habits have failed -- to force a linguistic meaning on the @ sign!

So perhaps one day they will get their heads out of their collective asses and fix this problem -- and with luck that will mean that search engines might finally fix this 15 year gap in searching for information about vertical fonts in Windows and finally these stodgy relics who try to be so hip and cool might break the generation gap enough to understand text messages. :-)


Disclaimer: I once had a woman break up with me because I wasn't texting her enough, though I don't think is influencing my opinions here; I was texting her plenty but apparently I would only text her in response to her texting mne; I simply never initiated in this ares. Fair enough, and she had a point. It is hard to change habits that were formed in an age where only drug dealers and doctors (who are also drug dealers when you think about it!) had cellular phones and thus no one was texting yet.

# rs on 24 Sep 2009 3:08 AM:

I can imagine that search engines are ignoring the @ sign in order to prevent people from collecting e-mail addresses.

# Michael S. Kaplan on 24 Sep 2009 3:59 AM:

Possibly. Though the needs of the @fonts and Twitter point to a need to change that solution to be smarter about what it does (since both cases cannot create valid email addresses). They have a way going forward, anad opportunity to b smarter (or at least less dumb!).

# Erzengel on 29 Sep 2009 3:01 AM:

"I would only text her in response to her texting mne; I simply never initiated in this ares."

I have the same problem as her. People respond to texts/IMs, but rarely initiate texts/ims. It makes one wonder about the other people, do they merely tolerate you? Do you bother them but they're too nice to say anything? Or do they simply not care enough to start a conversation?

If you never initiate the conversation, they end up never talking to you.

It's like the modern technological equivalent of "you never call" and "how come we never talk anymore", and as one who does a lot of initiating of conversations I really don't understand why this happens...

# Johannes Rössel on 11 Oct 2009 1:30 PM:

Interestingly, while Bing (just like Google) ignores @ it does much better with other things, such as regular expressions, such as "[1–9][0–9]*[WDwd][1–9][0–9]*(\+[1–9][0–9]*)?". Google concentrates on the "WDwd" part here instead of seeing the expression itself :-)

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