Web Posters Launch Anti-Bush 'Google Bomb'

ByPaul Eng

Dec. 8, 2003 -- President Bush is a miserable failure.

How much one agrees or disagrees with that statement is a matter of personal opinion. But according to the Internet's most popular search engine, it is cold, hard fact.

Go ahead, try it.

Type in "miserable failure" on the Google Web site and the first Web link most likely to show up will take you directly to the official online biography for the current occupant of the Oval Office. (The trick will also sometimes work on Yahoo! and other search engines.)

Has Google gone gaga for Richard Gephardt, the Democratic presidential candidate who has often used the term to describe Bush's policies? Should Bush supporters begin rallying against a vast, online left-wing conspiracy?

Not really.

"This is not a political statement from Google, but rather a reflection of a recent Web phenomenon," says a spokesman for Google in Mountain View, Calif. "In this case, a select group of Web masters used the words [miserable failure] to describe and link to George Bush's Web site."

In other words: the president has just been the latest victim of a "Google bomb," a crafty but simple manipulation of how the well-known online search engine works.

How to Make a ‘Google Bomb’

Google uses a technique that searches not just for words on a Web page, but also the words or terms used to link to that page.

For example, if another Web site links to this story using the term "shiny penny," Google catalogs this page along with other Web pages that actually use those words in the context of the subject. If gangs of other Web sites start using the exact same term, eventually this page will top the result lists for Web users looking for information about bright coins.

Google bombs have been around since 2001, when one Adam Mathes discovered and used the loophole to good-naturedly mock a friend as a "talentless hack."

Blog Power

But the phenomenon has started to gain recent traction.

Why? Because it doesn't take millions or even thousands of tweaked Web pages to make a Google bomb — even a politically charged one — successful. It just takes the dedication of a few good "blogs," or online journals published and maintained by independent Web operators.

In fact, the Bush Google bomb apparently mushroomed from the idea of a single, anonymous "blogger" on a blog site called the Old Fashioned Patriot (oldfashionedpatriot.blogspot.com) in late October.

"Someone dropped a link [from the Old Fashion Patriot blog] in the comments on my blog," says Don Waller, a 50-year-old Web designer who runs the Blah Blah Blah (blah3.com) blog. "I thought it was a clever idea and starting posting the link on a daily basis early in November."

Other bloggers, such as Adam Pressler, a 34-year-old financial analyst in Dallas, caught on to what became known as the "miserable failure" bomb project and joined in.

"It's a funny political protest," says Pressler, who runs a personal blog called Barefoot and Naked at the Retrogrouch.net Web site. "We have a point of view that we just want people to be aware of."

A Questionable End

Pressler and others have no idea just exactly how many others have joined in on the effort, but it's a sure bet that the project netted plenty of co-conspirators.

"This was not an organized thing. It was guys like me liking the idea and picking up on it," says Waller. "But I'd say there were quite a few involved, since the goal of getting that link to the top of Google was accomplished within a pretty short period of time."

And while it took just over a month latest Google bomb to go off, it's still isn't clear just when — or if — it will ever stop.

A lot will depend on the ever-changing dynamics of the Web world. What's hot online today could quickly fizzles out if it fails to maintain the interest of online surfers.

But so far, the "miserable failure" bomb has been anything but a failure among bloggers.

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