Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Google's Desktop Search. Building strong bones -- of spam.

I finished up this week's column on Google Desktop Search yesterday and still end up with some questions and concerns about the product. (Given the vagaries of publishing schedules the article will not appear in print until real soon now.) I like the ability to search everything on my hard drive. In fact, I am in love with that idea. What I don't think is so cool is that Google never throws anything away. If I delete a document, Google still has a link to it. What's going to happen to my hard drive? Will it eventually fill with junk I thought I had thrown away? This reminds me of the story of the file clerk who wanted to empty out some old files and her boss said that she could throw everything away but that she should make a copy first.

Keeping everything is certainly a double edged sword. The other day a co-conspirator in one of my many schemes came up to me and asked if I had read his email. I had absolutely zero recall of the message. I looked through the appropriate folders in Outlook and couldn't find it. I then asked Google Desktop to find all emails from this correspondent. Sure enough GDS had a record of the email. I had somehow deleted this email without taking the usual precursor steps of opening it, reading it, and ignoring it. Now I could see what he said, not in my Outlook, but by looking at the indexed copy GDS had saved. I had accidentally deleted the email, but that was ok because GDS had made a copy first. Ok, so keeping indexes of things I have deleted is sometimes marginally useful.

What was not apparent to me when I started using Google desktop is that it indexes even SPAM email and then never deletes the record of that email. If I type "Nigeria" into the desktop search box I see that it occurs 227 times on my computer. This strikes me as odd because until one sentence ago, I may have never had any reason to use the word Nigeria in a sentence. In response to my (largely imagined) fame however, I get quite a few emails from various Nigerian diplomats and other assorted officials asking me to assist them in schemes to get money out of their poor country. These requests are numerous and ridiculous. I never have to read them because Outlook is savvy enough to move them to my Junk mail folder without expectation of my further review. GDS, however, knows all, sees all, and indexes all... just in case. Every one of these scam emails gets indexed. It seems that Google's Desktop Search, like my dear mother, never throws anything away. Don't believe me? Install GDS, let it run for a week and then search for the word SPAM on your computer. Today, my GDS offers 10781 documents on just my personal drive containing the word SPAM. This blog entry counts as one.

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