The Internet weighs in: York, Pa. (inferior to Lancaster) is 'dangerous' and 'stinky'

York Dispatch

Tough love, here it goes.

The people of the Internet think we stink. Oh, and that we're dangerous. I wouldn't tell you if I didn't care.

I stumbled onto this one Saturday after deciding to Google lots of stuff about York, and I couldn't believe the top autocomplete finishes were "Why does York, Pa. stink" or "smell," and "Why is York, Pa. so dangerous?"

I thought web surfers would want to know something cool, like why we're the First Capitol of the U.S. or why we have that dizzy barbell guy by the highway. No, no. They want to know why we smell. And they think we're dangerous.

This is all according to an algorithm that Google says is "based on a number of objective factors, including how often past users have searched for a term." Like the chatty Aunt Grace of the Internet, it finishes your sentences in a search inquiry when you start typing it.

So if you start typing something like "Why is the sky ... " Google's window throws out the most popular finishes, such as "blue."

That one's sort of a no-brainer, but autocomplete can actually give some interesting insight into what the users of the world's most popular search engine most often type into the inquiry field.

And therefore, what they're thinking.

Pa.'s top hits: The Atlantic published a piece, "Why is Pennsylvania so haunted? The U.S. According to Autocomplete," which the author wrote based on autocomplete of each of the 50 states when Google was posed with the starting phrase "Why is (name of state) so..."

Pennsylvania's top results included haunted, weird and good at wrestling.

I expected everything but the wrestling. Is this really a thing? Maybe not in York. Who wants to get close enough to wrestle with all that ambient stink?

Results for other states were sorta funny, but they also worked on some pretty embarrassing stereotypes.

The autocomplete responses to "Why is Mississippi so ..." were, in order, "poor," "backwards," "fat" and "bad."


Downer: Autocomplete can be illuminating, but it's a bit of a downer for some places. Like York.

When I started typing, "Why is York, Pa. so ... " here came the word "dangerous."


If you follow through on that Google thread, the results are a bunch of news links about the city's crime rate.

Next I typed "Why does York, Pa.," and the top two results were "smell" and "stink."

I sat at my laptop feeling like nobody told me my skirt had been tucked into my underwear all day.

I really don't think we even stink as much as we used to, but whatever.

I hit enter to execute that "stink" search, and the links include an online forum of people who were considering moving to the area and were advised about the Codorus Creek smelling like the Glatfelter paper mill in Spring Grove.

"Spring Grove smell is pretty much like sauerkraut except a little worse," one of them wrote.


This is why we can't have anything nice.

Lancaster: But Lancaster, well now. As you might suspect, Lancaster is just perfect and has none of our PR or "pee-yew" problems.

I did this experiment before the incredibly productive "nana-nana-boo-boo" exchange (between two newspapers that did not include this publication) through which we recently learned that Lancaster is better than York.

So let the following be the proverbial nail-in-the-coffin of that pseudo-debate.

If you type in "Why does Lancaster, Pa ... " the top hit is a tourist website promoting all that is right east of the Susquehanna.

If you type in "Why is Lancaster, Pa ... " it's auto-corrected — not auto-completed — to "Why visit Lancaster, Pa." Well, that must be a nice problem to have. We just put a Yorker in the governor's office, but people really just want to know about our paper smell.

Tom Wolf: Next, with the trepidation of a Rick Santorum campaign worker, I Googled Tom Wolf.

For those who don't know, Santorum had rounds with Google after gay columnist Dan Savage led a group of people striking back at Santorum for comparing homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality.

Savage launched a website that defined the word Santorum as something absolutely gross, which I won't repeat here, and so many people clicked on that bogus definition that it rose to the top of Google's search results.

It was the warfare of the future, pretty devastating for someone trying to run for president.

But, aaah, Tom Wolf's top autocompletes are innocuous. "Gun control," "taxes," and the sort.

Neither his Jeep nor his beard made the prediction list, but at least the Internet didn't find him dangerous or smelly by association with York.

Even if the Internet had been unfriendly to Wolf, his campaign could've taken actions to steer the Google results.

That's the hope in this column. Unless you irritate, like, a million gays, you can probably redeem yourself on the Internet.

Certain strategies boost link-visibility in Google and other search engine results. Essentially, you just have to make some other search or search result (website) more popular. You need to get people to click on what you want.

Change it: So it is possible for us to change York's stinking online reputation.

If everyone in York County went to Google from all of their devices (we'd need as many IP addresses as possible) and typed in "Why does York, Pa. have so many factory tours?" I bet we could bump the stink out as the first autocomplete.

The top website result on the factory tour would be a York County Convention and Visitors Bureau website.

It talks about potato chips and handmade string instruments. No sauerkraut smell. We should all click on that link.

Then, if we typed in "Why is York Pa. so historical?" and clicked on the top result, it would be the official York County website about our history. Now, that's better, isn't it?

If everyone typed in those questions verbatim, those inquiries would increase in popularity.

Just don't indulge the urge to see what happens if you search for the stink question, because that'll only increase its popularity.

Use #unstinkyork to share your thoughts or screen captures after you've executed the #unstinkyork campaign.

I'll keep you posted on the progress in a future column.

Christina Kauffman writes Chris Crossing York, an occasional column, and is the project coach at The York Dispatch. She diffuses the stress of journalism by making exotic bird calls in the newsroom and threatening her colleagues with a stick she calls "The Holy Saber," which is actually just a long wooden dowel. Interrupt her at, @shewritesitdown on Twitter, or 505-5436.