Sometimes it's possible to be overly helpful.

There's the well known story about the boy scout who helps an old lady to cross the street, even though she was perfectly content to stay on the side that she was on. That's the way I often feel when I conduct a search on AltaVista and immediately discover that I'm being innundated by opportunities to make a purchase.

It's admittedly a love/hate relationship. If I'm teaching, I like to search for 19th century furniture, and to show how the advertisements I receive on the results page are streamlined to my search, and how I receive a button to click over to where my search term has been instantly converted to a search for books on the topic I've chosen. There's something beautiful about that. Perhaps also an invasion of privacy, but still beautiful.

But if I'm searching for, let's say, information on Johann Kepler, what am I supposed to understand from the line that appears even before the first results:

I'm always tempted to click and see what sort of products are waiting for me, but I invariably discover that AltaVista didn't find any results matching my request, and that AltaVista suggests that I check my spelling. It's as though the idea that someone might be looking for information that doesn't have a saleable product attached to it is simply an impossibility.

Go to: on becoming an anachronism