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Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Sullivan Piques -- and Holds -- Our Interest in "Miserable Failure" Story

So-called "Google bombing" seems like innocuous fun. But for those who believe a popular research tool shouldn't be so easy to manipulate, it's no joke. Danny Sullivan has been one of Google's harshest critics when it comes to this vulnerability. Last month, he opined that the fact that George W. Bush's presidential bio comes up #1 on a search for the phrase "miserable failure" might mean that it is "Google itself," and not W., that is the "real miserable failure".

Our ears perked up. Hello? Did Danny just seem really perturbed by a bit of harmless fun, or...? What deep-seated agenda lurks behind that mild-mannered demeanor?

Before long, though, icons of the left began appearing on the same SERP: Hillary, Michael Moore, and poor Howard Dean. Now that conservatives had caught onto the trick, the liberals had begun out-failing Bush!

Updating the story, Sullivan discovered that AOL (which uses Google's feed to display search results) had come to Bush's rescue. They'd expunged the reference to W. in the SERP for "miserable failure." Slight problem: now Michael Moore, also the victim of the Google Bomb tactic, now appears in the #1 position on that page. Hillary's up to #2. As Sullivan now points out, "for links to these liberal figureheads to remain while Bush is protected opens a entire new chapter in this story."

No one should care, of course, since all that's really happened is that a bit of equal-opportunity pranksterism has been altered slightly to please the powers that be. Censorship? You bet. But then again, "miserable failure" is not a term anyone would typically type in unless they were researching the Google bomb angle.

Since many will be, however -- in this self-referential world, there will always be searches about searching -- it seems AOL may have shot itself in the foot, because it makes itself look obviously partisan and weak-willed to boot. Not good for a company with crumbling subscriber numbers and embarrassing financials.

Anyway, if you're feeling immature, you'd best play the Google Bomb game while you still can. Another search tech pundit (I won't say who) implored a few fellow pranksters not to dare linking to him using the phrase "Geraldo Rivera of Search." Phew, I just barely restrained myself...

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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