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Should President Bush Sue Google? 26 January 2001 Edition
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I'm afraid it's been a busy week and I'm a bit short of material for a lighten-up section today -- but the search engine Google.com has come to the rescue.

Up until early this morning, searching for one particular offensive phrase produced a rather strange, and seemingly unrelated response with a certain comedic quality.

Readers Say
(updated hourly)

From Yesterday

Scanning for Hotfixes... - Peter

MS Word docs vs PDFs... - Tasha

MS Patches... - Michael

youve got to be joking... - James

Word convertor... - Jamie

Ms Word vs. PDF... - Richard

MS-* attachments and pdf converter... - Lin

Have Your Say

If you promise not to be offended by bad language then you can click here (or, if it's been fixed, click here) to see what is/was happening.

This kind of hiccup raises an interesting question -- could Google be sued for defamation by effectively implying a connection between the search term and the results displayed? Would any lawyer reading this care to tender a (free) opinion perhaps?

Even more interestingly, the highlighting of this anomalous search result has unveiled a little more of the secrecy surrounding the way that google ranks its sites.

It's well known that it tends to rank highly those sites which have lots of links from other pages on the Web. I guess the rationale here being that if other people think it's worth linking to then it's probably good and relevant.

However, it has been explained that in the George W. Bush example, the offensive phrase produces the result it does is because that term was used by another site as the link text to the page concerned.

So, it seems that google not only indexes your page by the text on it, but also by the text that other sites use when referring to it. I guess this opens the door to all manner of new "tactics" from people looking to boost their search engine rankings. For example, if you have multiple websites, it would make a lot of sense to cross-link the them using links that have relevant keywords -- it will probably give your ranking a lift and may even allow the use of new keywords without dilution of the existing ones.

Microsoft's Woes Sound An Important Warning
Quite frankly, I'm getting a little tired of talking about Microsoft -- but, given their importance to both the software and Internet industries it can't be avoided.

The fact that MS has now entered the third day of problems with access to its own websites is extremely disturbing -- and should be ringing warning bells for all companies who do rely heavily on the Net.

Despite claims that the Internet was designed to be "robust", and to retain communications even when parts of the network went down -- it really is quite fragile. One of the culprits in creating this fragility is the DNS (domain name service) -- sometimes referred to as the Net's "Archilles heel."

Imagine how useless the phone system would be if, overnight, all the phone numbers were changed and there were no phone books to allow you to look up the people you wanted to call -- that's the effect of a DNS failure.

Although the (IP) numbers don't change, nobody that I know ever accesses their favourite websites or email addresses using the raw number (although it can be done) -- they all rely on the DNS to look up the site's name and automatically get that critical IP number.

Given the amount of effort and money that has been invested in adding new top-level domains to the domain name system, why on earth isn't someone addressing the technical shortcomings of this weak link in the fabric of the Internet?

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