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I'm Feeling Gamed

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"Can anybody catch these guys?" is the question posed by Newsweek's cover story in the current issue. Veteran archivist Daniel Brandt has created a Googlebomb which makes the question rather redundant. The bomb is for the phrase 'out of touch executives'. Type the phrase with quotes into the Google search engine, and hit "I'm Feeling Lucky." Or click here, which has the same effect.

As with other Googlebombs, the word 'touch' doesn't appear anywhere on the top-ranking page: a Googlebomb is a simple demonstration of manipulating the search engine to place the page you want at the top of its search results. Famous bombs have included 'French Military Victories' and 'Weapons of Mass Destruction', a bomb with a witty payload.

But the remarkable thing about this demonstration is how few sites Brandt needed to break the search engine. Just eight pages, from five low 'PageRank' sites, and this we figure is a record. So no search engine optimizers (SEOs) or webloggers were harmed in the course of this production. Brandt, who began work on the demonstration a month ago, explaining his results as progressed, used four links from pages at Clusterclick and CIA on Campus, and these two from Google-Watch, one from Scroogle, and one other domain.

Yahoo! bombed! too!
Alas Yahoo! performs no better. The bomb works equally well. While the Google bomb requires you to enclose the phrase in quotation marks, out add dashes to out-of-touch, Yahoo!'s newly revamped search doesn't. Brandt is scathing about Yahoo!'s new pay-to-play Site Match at a new site, Yahoo! Watch.

Brandt performed the exercise in just three weeks to prove how easily it can be done, and the results took even him by surprise. He doesn't condone the practice: in fact several pages bear the message 'Help end Google bombs'. He achieved his Yahoo! bomb on March 13. Google took a little longer to fall. Brandt says that he hopes this will be the Last Google Bomb.

While Google officially maintains that Bombs are harmless, they do show how easily the integrity of the search results can be compromised.

"An easy fix for many bombs," explains Brandt "Google should not use terms in external links to boost the rank of a page on those terms, unless those terms are on the page itself. This is a no-brainer. But it means another CPU cycle per link, which is why Google won't do it."

"Consider what real spammers can do. They use hundreds or even thousands of domains to manipulate the rankings in Google. This has been going on for a couple of years," he says. "I haven't discovered anything new here," he told us.

Google's IPO is expected in July, but doubts are already being raised. "IMHO, they made a huge mistake in not having their IPO earlier as their 'superior technology' is increasingly being compromised," a Slashdot poster noted at the weekend. Google is still the world's most popular brand name , but the deteriorating quality of the results raises questions of whether it can get to the finishing line in time. Google's greatest threat is not the competition: but that it appears to have no Plan B. We certainly don't hear that 'Google is God' so much these days.

From its omniscient authority of just a couple of years ago, Google already looks like one of Silicon Valley's most spectacular burn outs. Only by popular folklore, they're supposed to burn out after they've IPO'd, or been destroyed by Microsoft. Google hasn't even IPO's yet. ®

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