(via my O’Reilly blog)

I’ve been amazed at how well Google’s news service works. But no matter how good the technology is, occasional mistakes are inevitable when computer programs try to compile and correlate news headlines from lots of different sources. Today, some of the seams really showed.

In the “Top Stories” section at the top of the page, there’s always a subsection called “In the News” that contains a short list of topical links: topics that seem to be getting a lot of coverage, but haven’t made it to the prestige positions that include headlines and pictures. The links in “In the News” aren’t headlines. Instead, they’re topic keywords that have been extracted from the headlines by the Google software. Things like “Tel Aviv,” “Harry Potter,” and “NATO Summit.”

Today I noticed three topics in particular: “Our Man Flint,” “Magnificent Seven,” and “Academy Award.” It’s clear what’s going on therenews outlets are writing about the death of James Coburn, and Google is picking up on references to his achievements and most famous films in the headlines. But when I clicked on the topics, things got even more interesting.

The page for Our Man Flint was 10-for-10. All the stories were about Coburn. Academy Award was somewhat mixed, since there are other Oscar winners in the news this week.

But I was really surprised when I clicked the link for Magnificent Seven. Just looking at the first ten hits, I learned:

I don’t mean to take anything away from what Google has achieved. All things considered, it works amazingly well. And quite frankly, occasional strange juxtapositions like this can be goodthey add an element of the serendipity that’s present in a real newspaper, where you can occasionally run across a fascinating article that you never would have looked for.

Think about it. I’ll probably watch at least one of those Coburn movies on TCM Sunday night. The story about the horses was interesting, and I was surprised to learn that five years have gone by since the McCaughey septuplets were born. And it’s interesting that the producer of the film and one of its stars died during the same week.

I learned one more thing, too. All of those stories included the words “Magnificent Seven”—most of them in the headline. The name of the film has entered our language. That, in itself, says something about the legacies of James Coburn and Marvin Mirisch.