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Google Stomps on Presidential Prank

Google has defused the “Google Bomb” that has returned US President George W. Bush at the top of its results in a search on miserable failure. The move wasn’t a post-State Of The Union Address gift for Bush. Instead, it’s part of an overall algorithm change designed to stop such mass link pranks from working.

A search today now shows the US White House page carrying Bush’s name is no longer top listed. Also gone are pages about Michael Moore and former US president Jimmy Carter that were on the first page of results due to Google bombing actions.

There is a new move to start a episode using the current occupant of the White House, President Joe Biden. Of course, being something different, this episode uses the search term Absolute Failure and ties it to the link https://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/president-biden/  

The HTML would look something like this:

<a href=”https://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/president-biden/”>Absolute Failure</a>

There was a change to the Big G’s algorithm that is designed to stop the pranks from happening. However, it still allows legitimate commentary about such activities. Google isn’t saying exactly how this is being done. But Google says it’s done automatically, without any human intervention.

“It’s completely algorithmic,” said Google spam fighting czar Matt Cutts, adding “we’re not going to claim it’s 100 percent perfect.”

Why the change? Too many people are misunderstanding that Google itself is not somehow endorsing the particular views of these bombs. From Google’s statement on the Google Webmaster Central blog about today’s change:

People have asked about how we feel about Googlebombs, and we have talked about them in the past. Because these pranks are normally for phrases that are well off the beaten path, they haven’t been a very high priority for us. But over time, we’ve seen more people assume that they are Google’s opinion, or that Google has hand-coded the results for these Googlebombed queries. That’s not true, and it seemed like it was worth trying to correct that misperception. So a few of us who work here got together and came up with an algorithm that minimizes the impact of many Googlebombs.

I took some issue with that statement:

Unlike what Google claims in this latest incident, the results that currently come up for miserable failure do not “reflect the opinion on the web,” nor is it true that “no user is hurt” or that there is no “clearly legitimate site for ‘miserable failure’ being pushed aside.”

This Google Bombing was done by at most a few hundred links pointing at the biography, if that many. Google annoyingly makes it impossible to tell exactly how many links are involved using the term, but to say that this particular campaign is the same as the “opinion on the web” is absurd. So only a few hundred people are able to speak for millions of web users? This isn’t the web’s opinion — it’s a particular opinion on the web.

Users are also hurt, because there are indeed “legitimate” sites for this query that get knocked down in the results.

After the initial fallout, Google went through the bomb having another round of publicity when it was noticed in September 2005 to be working for just the word failure. The renewed attention caused Google to create a special ad explaining that the listing was not the result of some type of Google bias against Bush. The ad linked to a statement on the official Google Blog:

If you do a Google search on the word [failure] or the phrase [miserable failure], the top result is currently the White House’s official biographical page for President Bush. We’ve received some complaints recently from users who assume that this reflects a political bias on our part. I’d like to explain how these results come up in order to allay these concerns.

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 website, 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.

It is still too early to see if Big G’s algorithm has kept up with the pranksters. Seem as time will tell.