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Emergency fixes for blog-clogged Google

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Letters It's hard to say what needs patching more urgently, right now: Microsoft Windows or Google. But at least Microsoft makes its fixes conspicuously available. Google's notorious culture of secrecy forbids it from offering even the most innocent explanations.

Fortunately, Register readers have come to the rescue.

On Sunday Google admitted to the Washington Post that it was working on a bug it had found which was withholding thousands of legitimate search results from its users. The bug was in response to another bug: Google's susceptibility to being gamed by spammers who set up 'link farms' to tripwire its PageRank™ algorithm. "Is Google starting to show signs of strain against spammers and Web scammers?", asked the Post.

And this week yet another bug seemed to illustrate that the patched-up search engine was losing the battle. Google can't weed out its search results for 'blog noise', such as the millions of empty pages created by Movable Type's "Trackback" feature, we reported.

If you compare Google's search results for OS X Panther discussion with AltaVista's, AltaVista scored a clean sweep - providing a Top Ten free of the Trackback virus that Movable Type webloggers have unwittingly dumped on the Internet. Seven out of the top ten results from Google were duds: empty trackback pages.

In the absence of a bug-report from Google, here are some emergency patches, from Register readers.

"Perhaps the answer is to put -trackback into google whenever you search," writes Paul Fleetwood. "It certainly fixed the example you provided. Though maybe google need to make it a default setting."

Stuart Bell agrees.

"Perhaps Google should consider such an innocuous fix? Granted, we'll end up in yet another arms race between the blogger software folks and Google filters, but that's life out on the wild and wooly Internet frontier, eh?"

Paul Tomblin offers the more sophisticated filter -mt-tb.cgi - which seems to do the trick nicely.

"I suppose the simplest way to do this would be putting a new section in the Google preferences page - a noise filter, spam filter, blog filter, whatever - which has either hard-coded or user editable exclusions for searches," Andrew Hodgkinson. "To be much use for the 'average casual searcher' who doesn't know about preferences, advanced search or blogs, it probably ought to be switched on by default - a little risky (as with any spam filter it might block legitimate content), but surely no more so than SafeSearch."

Indeed so.

Perhaps with its executives fixated on an IPO, and aggressively expanding the company's advertising franchise, Google has forgotten that it once had a search engine too, way back when. Perhaps the executives would like to attend to it now. ®

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