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Text chat and keyword search

Annie Wakefield
Digital Marketing Manager
2 March 2009

According to John Sutherland of University College London, writing in the Guardian in 2002, text language is "bleak, bald, sad shorthand…. it masks dyslexia, poor spelling and mental laziness. Texting is penmanship for illiterates." Harsh words.

But this is nothing new: ever since the arrival of printing – thought to be the invention of the devil because it would put false opinions into people's minds – language purists have been arguing that new technology would have disastrous consequences for language.

A recent study has revealed that ‘text speak’ could actually have a positive effect on the way children interact with language. It was previously assumed that the shortcuts, slang and misspellings used by most of the world’s youth when communicating via mobile text messages and online had a harmful effect of their literacy levels.

Researchers from Coventry University studied 88 children aged between 10 and 12 to understand the impact of text messaging on their language skills. They found that the use of so-called "textisms" could be having a positive impact on reading development.

"Children's use of ‘textisms’ is not only positively associated with word reading ability, but it may be contributing to reading development," the authors wrote in the report. The more exposure you have to the written word the more literate you become and we tend to get better at things that we do for fun they concluded. The study found no evidence of a detrimental effect of text speak on conventional spelling. So in other words: it's not so bad, and nothing will be done about it.

But what happens when these kids, and so many others, get older and start using their mobile phones to search online? Will they be searching in shortcuts and slang? Will they resort to using the spellings and acronyms they use when chatting to friends through their phones?

Will Google have to add ‘cr nsurnce’ and ‘eby’ and ‘brtny sprs’?

Actually, search engines and many websites are way ahead already:

Cr nsurnce

Three paid and three natural results: not a bad return on what basically amounts to gibberish. Drop the 'e' on the end and you get the same results, minus the last one healthinsurance2007.info. Leave the 'e' on the end and drop the 'u' and you get the same results, minus the last one, again. Money Supermarket and Confused seem to be optimising for shocking spelling and terrible typos.

According to Google: Google's spell checking software automatically looks at your query and checks to see if you are using the most common version of a word's spelling. If it calculates that you're likely to generate more relevant search results with an alternative spelling, it will ask "Did you mean: (more common spelling)?" Clicking on the suggested spelling will launch a Google search for that term. Because Google's spell check is based on occurrences of all words on the Internet, it is able to suggest common spellings for proper nouns (names and places) that might not appear in a standard spell check program or dictionary.

So bad spelling doesn’t mean you get no search results online, it just means a limited return on results. And in order for your website to appear for every possible search term, correctly spelt or not, you might want to consider optimising your website with some bad spelling.

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