January 23, 2004

"Miserable Failure" and Google

The "Miserable Failure" Google-bomb, of linking the keywords "Miserable Failure" to the White House page "Biography of President George W. Bush", was recently covered in the New York Times. It's now becoming a tactic in political campaigns.

Google-bombing, as I think of it, demonstrates the conflict between *popularity* and *authority* for search engines. As the article notes: about searching "miserable failure":

The more high-traffic sites that link a Web page to a particular phrase, the more Google tends to associate that page with the phrase - even if, as in the case of the president's official biography, the term does not occur on the destination site.

It's an illustration of many people repeating something (popularity) for purposes of having it accepted as meaningful (authority). This leads to obvious concerns as to just how much neutral authority can be corrupted by partisan popularity (note this assumes for the sake of discussion that course there's a neutral authority in the first place - a very arguable assumption). To wit (the link below is my own, for humor):

Google plays down the significance of Google bombing, saying the search results merely reflect what is actually happening on the Web.

"We're only seeing it with obscure queries where there's really not that much action on the Web about them," said Craig Silverstein, Google's director of technology. "I don't think it's possible to do this sort of thing on queries with well-defined results like I.B.M.' So given that it only affects one query out of the more than 200 million a day we handle, it's hard to see it becoming much of a problem."

I'm actually a little puzzled by that statement. What does he mean by "well-defined results"? Maybe "results which have many links already". Then it looks like he's basically right. You can't capture a term which already has a strong meaning. But even so, there's a still a lot of search-space in which to play.

[Update September 15 2005 - This has led to a "failure" Google bomb]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on January 23, 2004 11:58 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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A Poodle
google bomb was started up also in late January.

Posted by: Poodle">Poodle at March 21, 2004 12:01 PM