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Spammers, Cuil, and the rescue from planet Google

Out-Googling Google is not an option

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Web spammers are looking for an audience. As the most popular search engine, Google controls what its audience sees, so the junk jockeys generate their pages in ways that game the system. Everyone else legitimately seeking those same eyeballs for their content or customers for their business want the better search rankings too, so the SEO crowd works to make legit sites dance to Google's tune. Techniques such as adding needless internal links, creating PageRank-friendly URLs and distorting normal grammar are all widely deployed with varying degrees of dastardliness.

And so it goes. Gradually the structure and content of the web becomes at one with the Google data centre. Disrupting such a tight, interconnected mutualism seems impossible for would-be "Google Killers". The best others can hope for is to imitate Google results.

Throw Google from the Train

Hitwise says Google's market share of US web searches in June was more than 69 per cent. Thanks to the mutualistic process driven by spammers and SEO consultants, that dominance is only going to increase, and it's the only "Google Killer" on the horizon.

There will be other players in the game five years from now, skiffling along on scraps where there's a lazy audience (see Microsoft's deal to supply Facebook with web search facilities, or Live.com bloatware on new PCs).

That of course is when the favours spammers and SEO consultants have been doing for Larry and Sergey will become dangerous, anti-trust style. Regulatory intervention now seems the only bar to a complete Google autocracy over the web economy.

Now is probably a good time to abandon any hope of a benevolent Google dictatorship. In toughening economic times, we're already seeing the firm being tempted to abuse its immense power to prevent its halo slipping in the eyes of Wall Street. "Do no evil" became a bad joke long ago, but its latest move to multiply its customers' search advertising costs on the sly by co-opting them into its new "Ad Matching" programme is low by any standard.

But don't blame Google's executives. It's just what monopolies do.

The spammers can help by increasing the sophistication of their junk, prompting more secret factors to be added to the byzantine Google algorithm. Kosher sites must then respond, further tailoring themselves to Mountain View's new rules, and accelerating the decline of its weak web search rivals. The at some point governments and regulators will have to act, won't they? ®

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