I sort of know how Jim Sterba feels. I’m referring to the author, Jim Sterba, who wrote “Frankie’s Place: A Love Story,” not the one who gave the talk a while back at Loyola University in Chicago.
In an opinion piece published Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal, Sterba writes about another Jim Sterba, a philosophy professor at Notre Dame, who also writes books. The two Sterbas connected in 1980s through postal mail and realized that aside from authoring books, they share many similarities, such as the same middle name and birth years.
Then along came technology, social media and Google search. Newspaper errors seem to get corrected overnight, but as Sterba -- the one who wrote the WSJ opinion piece -- puts it, in Google search errors seem to linger forever.
Books are listed in Google search under Professor Sterba’s picture that belongs to the Sterba who wrote the WSJ opinion piece, along with the name “Frances FitzGerald,” his wife, and his wife’s parent’s names. Sterba’s efforts to correct Google have gone nowhere.
I’ve had slightly better luck. During the past few years since Google Gmail emerged, I realized that the name Laurie Sullivan is very common. The surname, Sullivan, I adopted at 22 after marrying my first husband, now deceased.
Google Gmail dates back to April 2004. I’ve pretty much had my email address since launch. Since then I’ve received emails from a whole host of folks thinking they’ve reached their “Laurie Sullivan,” none of which were intended to reach me. They were addressed to another Laurie Sullivan.
Laurie Sullivan in Virginia whose husband works for the government. Laurie Sullivan in Maryland who bought the Mercedes-Benz. And Laurie Sullivan in Texas. These are just to name a few.
One Laurie Sullivan, at the time, led the condominium association, where people asked her questions about reconstructing the pool in the complex. Frankly, I know more about these Laurie Sullivans than I care to know.
Google and Microsoft have done a fairly good job at connecting the dots on related subjects, but bugs exist. In 2017, Google launched Fact Check to help people find and confirm useful information in search, but it doesn’t always work out.
I realize Jim Sterba’s adventure with Google search and social media isn’t the same as mine, but it goes to show the pitfalls of technology when facts go unchecked, careless mistakes are made, and Google’s knowledge graph and algorithms go awry.