Search engines, how do they work?

This is about season 3, episode 4 of the rather entertaining CBS show Elementary, a show where these kind of errors always let my blood pressure rise a little bit higher because Sherlock is such an arrogant prick when it comes to errors made by everyone else.

So Holmes and Watson are interviewing a person of interest called Michael Webb – not that his name is relevant or anything. Michael Webb is a guy who doesn’t like to clean his apartment, but lucky for him, a friend of his entered him into a contest where he won a package of free cleanings. Isn’t that something! The cleaning company is called “Clean The House”, which is a rather appropriate name for a cleaning company, but Sherlock is not impressed. Instead, he’s asking Webb if it ever occurred to him to check out the company’s website because … yeah, why would he, actually?

Oh, because they don’t have a website! That’s a little suspicious in this day and age, at least according to Sherlock Holmes. I’m not entirely convinced – it’s certainly a rare occurrence, but in the end, a small cleaning business really doesn’t need an internet presence anyway. But that’s not what I’m rambling about – it’s this:

Image (c) CBS
Image (c) CBS

The face-palm is strong in this one. Entering something other than an URL into the browser bar of a smartphone – in this case it’s an iPhone with a made-up UI – would result in either the default search engine being queried for the search term or, if the phone has no internet connection, in an error message notifying the user about the lack of connectivity. It would not, however, display a 404 error, because that actually requires a file to be requested off a server. That did clearly not happen because the search term, and not an URL, is still displayed in the address bar.

The only chance a 404 error would be displayed as a result of this query would be if the search engine’s server was broken, but in no case would this lead to the screen Sherlock bases his suspicions on.

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