Dark Bilious Vapors

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Home » Archives » September 2005 » Google Bombs

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09/27/2005: Google Bombs

Being a techno-dweeb, I found this a bit amusing from the Chicago Tribune `Google bombs' put searchers on wrong path, by Steve Johnson:

“Latest on the list of things that engage the computerati but barely interfere with the lives of regular folk -- except to add another new term we vaguely feel we ought to remember -- is the practice known as "Google bombing."

In a resurfacing of an old political jab, anyone typing the word "failure" into the Google Internet search engine gets, as first result, the official White House biography of President George Bush. Ditto for typing the term "miserable failure." Not tested on this computer, because of office rules about profanity rather than because of how much the editorial page loves our president, is what happens if you stick an expletive, undeleted, in between "miserable" and "failure."

These results show up because people who followed their parents' advice to study computer science instead of English literature have analyzed Google and other search engines and figured out that they can be manipulated.
How does a Google bomb work? Here's the company's own, reasonably lucid explanation: "Google's search results are generated by computer programs that rank Web pages in large part by examining the number and relative popularity of the sites that link to them. . . . In this case, a number of Web masters use the phrases failure and miserable failure to describe and link to President Bush's Web site, thus pushing it to the top of searches for those phrases."

For this reason, and the fact that other search engines are also affected, some have argued that "link bombing" is the better term.

Reading between the lines of this recent posting, the company's bluster fails to disguise that it seems worried about Google bombing. It's something that can be done by a relatively small group of bloggers, for instance, and it can push legitimate search results below where they ought to be.

What the company doesn't say is that failure-equals-Bush is a clunker of a joke. The search result would be funny if you stumbled on it accidentally, by, say, following a blind link sent to you by one of those guys who is always sending around "wacky" e-mails. You got the picture he passed on of the Presidents George Bush fishing in New Orleans, right? First truly amusing thing he sent in a year.

But very few people -- perhaps an inherent defeatist looking for the actual online journal called Failure, or a newspaper writer researching a high-concept feature story -- are likely to type "f-a-i-l-u-r-e" into Google without having been tipped to the result first. And punchline-then-joke just doesn't work.

Funnier is that the second "failure" search result you get, in an apparent act of tit for tat, is the Web site of Bush-bashing filmmaker Michael Moore. Right-wingers can fool Google too.

But most interesting is following the third link, to a legitimate result of the "failure" search. On the site of Failure magazine, we learn that the editors are, in fact, thinking about Katrina.

"We have a front-runner for Failure of the Year (FOTY): The federal government's response to the situation on the Gulf Coast," says the Editor's Column. "The Bush Administration `won' our annual FOTY award two years ago, and it seems destined to become the first two-time winner in Failure's six-year history."

Clearly, this is not a publication run by talentless hack."

Karen on 09.27.05 @ 05:44 AM CST

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