Friday, May 02, 2003

Will Weblogs Ruin Google's Search Engine?
Last April, Stanford University student Adam Mathes played a joke on his friend Andy Pressman. Mathes' goal: Make Pressman's Web site the No. 1 Google search result for "talentless hack." The method: Encourage as many people with Web sites as possible to link to Pressman's site using those words. (Like this: Andy "talentless hack" Pressman.) The prank worked. A year later, Pressman's Web site is still Google's No.1 search result for the phrase. Mathes even invented a name for his joke: "Google Bombing."

Before Google, search engines ranked Web pages primarily by examining the content of each page, with decidedly mixed results. Google improved upon this system by taking into account the links that connect the billions of pages on the World Wide Web. If lots of Web sites link to Slate, for example, Google takes that as a vote of confidence in Slate, and moves Slate higher when it sorts a search for the word "slate." (Click here for Google's explanation of how its search technology works.)

Mathes discovered that the words that site owners use to link to a page affect Google's rankings, too. Pressman's site didn't contain the words "talentless hack," but because so many sites linked to his site using those words, Google figured he must be one. In Google's judgment, a Web page "must be what other people say it is," Mathes wrote. "In a bizarre surreal bow to the power of perception on the web, what you say about a page becomes just as important as the actual content of the page."

And because Google's search technology relies so heavily on links, Weblogs (those constantly updated personal Web sites like,, and can have a tremendous impact on Google's search results. Google searches favor Weblogs because they're sites that contain freshly updated content with lots of links. Conceivably, Weblogs could unleash powerful Google Bombs and threaten the legendary accuracy of the world's favorite search engine.

I'm looking around to see if there's a follow up to this. I know Google doesn't seem to mind, because they're getting billions of searches from blogs, and they've bought up BlogSpot.