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January 30, 2007

Google Bomb Diffused and With it the "Miserable Failure"

By Rahul Prabhakar, TMCnet Contributing Editor

The political health and governance of a country has always interested its citizens.
And with the use of the Internet as a medium for voicing public opinions, several blogs and discussion groups have come up, where like-minded people interact and share their point of view. At times these discussions are enterprising and productive, while at the others they take the form of gossips, satires, pranks, and so on.

Recently, Google (News - Alert) was trying to steer itself clear of a system error, which rubbed its ends with the USA’s topnotch politics. Caught in a technical faux pas involving its search engine, the officials were dealing with an Internet prank directed towards the American president, George W Bush.
Due to this error, which was first noticed in the year 2003, Internet users typing the phrase “miserable failure” into the Google search engine were being lead towards president Bush’s biography featured on the White House Web site.
The error occurred as the Google search engine does not only looks for Web page content, but also estimates the kind of words with which a site is linked and how frequently. Therefore, even a small number of participants of an online group can alter and maneuver the search results by connecting their sites to another selected one.
Popularly known as “Google bombing,” the trick has been used in the past as well to target other presidential positions in the US. Example of this can be the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, where John F. Kerry was linked to the search “waffles.”
In an announcement made on Thursday, the Google officials said that the issue had been resolved and now the search results for “miserable failure” would not lead to the president’s portal.
Referring to “Google bombs,” Matt Cutts, official heading the Webspam team at Google said on the Google blog, “Over time, we’ve seen more people assume that they are Google’s opinion, or that Google has hand-coded the results for these Google-bombed queries. That’s not true, and it seemed like it was worth trying to correct that misperception.”
George Johnston, a political activist and software programmer triggered off the “miserable failure” Google bomb. Starting off as a mere prank, according to him, it grew in dimension after the Hurricane Katrina, when the shock struck people started typing “failure” in the search engines to know the latest about the disaster.
Mr. Johnston feels that the reactions of Google have been politically motivated as he says, “I believe them that they tweaked the algorithm, but it is such weasel words. The fact that some Google bombs still work makes me think they have a blacklist essentially of ways of tweaking results.”
On the other hand to explain the occurrence of this problem and to clarify their stand, the following entry was made at the official blog by the Google personnel, “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. By using a practice called googlebombing, however, determined pranksters can occasionally produce odd results. In this case, a number of webmasters 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. We don’t condone the practice of googlebombing, or any other action that seeks to affect the integrity of our search results, but we’re also reluctant to alter our results by hand in order to prevent such items from showing up. Pranks like this may be distracting to some, but they don’t affect the overall quality of our search service, whose objectivity, as always, remains the core of our mission
Even though it is held up by technical bottlenecks, the efficacy and reliability of the Google team and its network still remains unchallenged.
Rahul Prabhakar is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To see more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.
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