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Google ?bombs? Bush

Search engine?s page rank algorithm can be used to spring big surprises, writes Diya Koshy.

india Updated: Feb 13, 2006 04:11 IST
Diya Koshy

What you are about to read is not breaking news. The Arabian Gulf has been bombed. So have George W Bush and other heads of state. The unlikely perpetrator of these ‘crimes’ is none other than the search engine Google.

The term “Google bombing” was first used by Adam Mathes in an April 2001 online article, Filler Friday: Google Bombing and refers to a collective hyperlinking that influences results of a particular group of words.

If one were to enter the words “miserable failure” in Google, the first result is the home page of US President George W Bush. Similarly, “French military victories” leads to a Google error page that asks the user, “Did you mean French military defeats?”

A search for the Arabian Gulf also produces hilarious results. It opens an Internet Explorer error page that reads: “The Gulf You Are Looking For Does Not Exist. Try Persian Gulf.” Following it is: “The gulf you are looking for is unavailable. No body of water by that name has ever existed. The correct name is Persian Gulf, which always has been, and will always remain, Persian.” Search “Weapons of Mass Destruction” and the page that opens is the US Department of Treasury.

The first Google bomb that was reported in 1999 when users discovered that “more evil than Satan” returned Microsoft’s home page.

Google bombing is possible because of the way the search engine’s page rank algorithm works. Here, a page will be ranked higher if it uses consistent anchor text, i.e., the text visible in the hyperlink. In an experiment, Mathes tried to make the website of his friend Andy Pressman the number one result for “talentless hack”. He gave instructions on creating websites and links to Pressman’s website with the text of the link reading “talentless hack.” Soon other webloggers joined in the Googlebombing attempt, and Pressman’s website became the first result for “talentless hack.”

Vijay Mukhi, an e-securities consultant, says, “Google bombing will continue to exist as long as Google is the most popular search engine. While no one knows the exact program on which Google runs its rankings, the basic principle is that the more popular your page, the higher its ranking.”

As of June 1, 2005, Yahoo, MSN and Ask Jeeves also returned George Bush’s home page as the result for “miserable failure.” Google counters that this should be dismissed as “cybergraffiti”.