January 29, 2007
Google Halts `Miserable Failure' Link to President Bush
By NOAM COHEN
It has been a bad month for anti-Bush snarkiness.
First, the anodyne impressionist Rich Little was selected to address
the White House correspondents' dinner as a follow-up to the scathing
routine last year by Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert. Now a favored
online tactic to mock the president altering the Google search
engine so the words "miserable failure" lead to President Bush's home
page at the White House has been neutralized.
Google announced on Thursday on its official blog that "by improving
our analysis of the link structure of the Web" such mischief would
instead "typically return commentary, discussions, and articles" about
the tactic itself.
Indeed, a search on Saturday of "miserable failure" on Google leads to
a now-outdated BBC News article from 2003 about the "miserable
failure" search, rather than the previous first result, President
Bush's portal at whitehouse.gov/president.
Such gamesmanship has been termed "Google bombing," and is not unique
to President Bush, or even politics. John F. Kerry, the Democratic
presidential candidate in 2004, was linked to the search "waffles,"
while other Google bombs have been elaborate jokes or personal vendettas.
Writing on the Google blog, Matt Cutts, the head of the Google's
Webspam team, said that Google bombs had not "been a very high
priority for us." But he added: "Over time, we've seen more people
assume that they are Google's opinion, or that Google has hand-coded
the results for these Google-bombed queries. That's not true, and it
seemed like it was worth trying to correct that misperception."
Mr. Cutts was not available on Friday to expand on his blog, a Google
spokeswoman said. A White House spokesman had no comment on the issue.
Despite the changes by Google, some other Google bombs are still
operative. A search for "French military victories" still produces a
first result that says, "Your search French military victories did
not match any documents." Click there and your find a mockup of a
Google search page asking the question "Did you mean: French military
The organizer of the "miserable failure" Google bomb was George
Johnston, a political activist and software programmer in Bellevue, Wash.
What began as a prank become something more after Hurricane Katrina,
Mr. Johnston said. In September 2005, he said he noticed a renewed
interest in the "miserable failure" prank; he believes "people were in
shock over New Orleans" and began typing "failure" into their
searches. Mr. Johnston said he considered Google's decision
politically motivated, even if was not done by hand, and noted that
the company had agreed to censor results in China. "I believe them
that they tweaked the algorithm, but it is such weasel words," he
said. "The fact that some Google bombs still work makes me think they
have a blacklist essentially of ways of tweaking results."
He hasn't given up the fight, he said, and remains unhappy with
Google's tweak. "They say they fixed it. I think they broke it," he said.