Feeds

Blame game over United Airlines stock crash rumbles on

Tribune CMS flaws at fault?

Build a business case: developing custom apps

The spat over who is to blame over the United Airlines share price crash continues.

It's common ground that a six-year-old United Airlines bankruptcy story became one of the most popular business stories on the Florida Sun Sentinel website early on Sunday morning, during a quiet news period, and was indexed by Google News. A Florida investment firm (who obviously hadn't looked at the content of the story) wrote a one line summary that made its way onto Bloomberg business wire on Monday, triggering a sell off that saw UAL shares drop from $12 to $3 before trading was suspended.

Both the Tribune Group, which owns the Sun Sentinel, and Google have issued statements (here and here) explaining their versions of events. The Sun Sentinel story wasn't dated (although its content made it obvious the piece was old) so the issue hinges on whether the url for the story changed or not.

The Tribune maintained that the url of the story didn’t change whereas Google said it hadn't crawled the link before.

An analysis by UK-based online marketing blog Blogstorm sides with Google in suggesting that the url had changed, several times over the years, whether Tribune bosses realised it or not. Crucially, the link in the "most popular" section of the Sun Sentinel site on Sunday morning was also new, Blogstorm explains.

The link posted to the "Popular Stories" section was to this article (now removed) which had a different url to all the other stories indexed by Google, so Google thought it was a brand new article. In Google's world, if something has a brand new url, then it’s a brand new page. Perhaps the url has existed for 6 years without being found by Google - if Google has indexed the story at a number of very similar urls, then they may well have decided not to crawl the extra url. When this suddenly gets linked from thousands of other pages on the site Google probably thought it was important enough to crawl and index.

So it might follow that the whole sorry mess can be blamed on the Tribune. Other factors - even ignoring the role of the the Florida investment house, Bloomberg and lemming-like investors - also come into play.

The mystery of why the six-year-old story appeared in the most popular stories section of the Sun Sentinel site is becoming clearer. The buzz in the blogsphere is that links from sites such as Digg and StumbleUpon to the now infamous story might have done the trick. Security experts warned that a botnet could easily be tuned to drive the necessary traffic.

But the Wall Street Journal reports that just one hit was all that was needed.

Last year, Tribune boss Sam Zell told Google and other news aggregators to stop indexing its headlines unless it was prepared to strike a licensing deal and pay up. But, as ValleyWag notes, the Sun-Sentinel failed to change the robots.txt file on its site in order to give the Googlebot a polite brush off, so its unsurprising that the automated process of headline grabbing was still taking place.

"If my analysis is correct and the Tribune did publish the story at multiple urls and the stories didn’t have the correct date stamp then my belief is they have been negligent. In the era of social media where 100,000 people can be directed to an article within hours publishing without a valid time and date at the top of the article is highly irresponsible," writes Patrick Altoft, managing partner at Blogstorm.

"The fact that the CMS has been designed without considering the potential implications of multiple urls and how Google News might handle them is also highly irresponsible for a major media organisation. Unless news sites realise the importance of these issues, we will see this type of incident happen again and again," he adds. ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
iPad? More like iFAD: We reveal why Apple fell into IBM's arms
But never fear fanbois, you're still lapping up iPhones, Macs
Sonos AXES support for Apple's iOS4 and 5
Want to use your iThing? You can't - it's too old
Amazon says Hachette should lower ebook prices, pay authors more
Oh yeah ... and a 30% cut for Amazon to seal the deal
Philip K Dick 'Nazi alternate reality' story to be made into TV series
Amazon Studios, Ridley Scott firm to produce The Man in the High Castle
Joe Average isn't worth $10 a year to Mark Zuckerberg
The Social Network deflates the PC resurgence with mobile-only usage prediction
Chips are down at Broadcom: Thousands of workers laid off
Cellphone baseband device biz shuttered
Feel free to BONK on the TUBE, says Transport for London
Plus: Almost NOBODY uses pay-by-bonk on buses - Visa
Nintend-OH NO! Sorry, Mario – your profits are in another castle
Red-hatted mascot, red-colored logo, red-stained finance books
Twitch rich as Google flicks $1bn hitch switch, claims snitch
Gameplay streaming biz and search king refuse to deny fresh gobble rumors
Stick a 4K in them: Super high-res TVs are DONE
4,000 pixels is niche now... Don't say we didn't warn you
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Maximize storage efficiency across the enterprise
The HP StoreOnce backup solution offers highly flexible, centrally managed, and highly efficient data protection for any enterprise.