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Defused Googlebombs May Backfire 105

Posted by Zonk
from the gooooobooooom dept.
linguista submits for us today an article on the Guardian site, which theorizes Google's bomb defusing may backfire on the company. Article author Nicholas Carr calls out Google for tweaking search results based on the company public image. As he notes, the Google blog entry announcing the end to bombing didn't cite a desire for better queries as the reason behind the change. Instead "... we've seen more people assume that they are Google's opinion, or that Google has hand-coded the results for these Googlebombed queries. That's not true, and it seemed like it was worth trying to correct that misperception." While the general image of Google is still that it 'does no evil', it's worth noting that the search engine is not solely a link popularity contest. The results you get from Google are tweaked by a number of factors, and at the end of the day the company has complete control over what rises to the top.
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Defused Googlebombs May Backfire

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  • by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Thursday February 01, 2007 @02:44PM (#17847420) Homepage Journal
    Is it just me, or does it sound like this was written by someone who was previously making a living off of increasing people's pagerank and is now miffed that his job is harder?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by garcia (6573)
      It's just you IMHO. It sounds like someone that doesn't like the fact that Google is doing it for the sole reason of improving its image in the world and not for the reason that its algorithms shouldn't have allowed it to occur in the first place.

      To be honest, Googlebombs that point you to relevant information from somewhere else (i.e. linking a restaurant's name to your blog content from another post) is an important feature of Google's indexing. It should not be limited. Linking unrelated content ("fai
      • by Threni (635302) on Thursday February 01, 2007 @03:10PM (#17847942)
        No, it's not just him. When I go to Google, I expect to spend as little time as possible finding what I want. Google should know what I'm looking for, and by and large it succeeds. If some sad bunch of nerds wants to manipulate sites so that a bogus link between a phrase and a person/organisation is created then they are of course free to do so, and Google is free to take whatever steps it likes to fight it. There's always robots.txt, isn't there, if you want to ensure no-one ever visits your site. Or there's cheating, and getting caught by Google.
        • Yes, yes, yes, but why does that make you like jandrese? Or do you think that something you wrote above in some way implies the article writer makes a living increasing people's Pagerank?
        • If it means my girlfriend can spend less time removing spam links from her forum to protect her sites page rank and more time in bed with me, I'm all for it.
          • by GeffDE (712146)
            So what Google means when it says, "Do No Evil" is "Letting you let out your devilish side, in bed."


            I'm all for it.
        • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

          by Irish_Samurai (224931)
          Google should know what I'm looking for, and by and large it succeeds.

          You have no idea how completely ignorant and idiotic that statement is do you? You expect a computer to understand your personal ontology for concepts and terminology? How about its ability to understand what you consider the most important term of your query?

          Lets say you put in a three word term to search for something. Lets say "Spicy Spaghetti Sauce". One person may feel that spicy is the most important aspect of his search. Another pe
          • You have no idea how completely ignorant and idiotic that statement is do you? You expect a computer to understand your personal ontology for concepts and terminology? How about its ability to understand what you consider the most important term of your query?
            Ever heard of personalised search?

            You have no idea what kind of algorithms they use do you?
            Do you understand how Bayesian statistics work?
            • by Irish_Samurai (224931) on Thursday February 01, 2007 @05:27PM (#17850254)
              Do you understand how Bayesian statistics work?

              Yeah, it wouldn't be anything like this part of my post would it?

              Google doesn't know everything about everything. So this "sad bunch of geeks" that are out "manipulating" the search results are actually the backbone of google's original ontological analysis. If there is a huge spike in term to concept linkage, Google (in theory) recognizes it and begins to retroactively evaluate their previously indexed relationships.

              My problem isn't with Google, or the googlebomb for that matter, its the kid thinking that a system should automatically know what he wants no matter what he put into it.
          • It sounds to me like you're completely misinterpreting what the grandparent said about the "sad bunch of nerds" (and yes, it was nerds in the grandparent's post, not geeks).

            In context, this is specifically talking about the people who create googlebombs to link to a site using terms that do not appear in (or even apply to) the site itself.

            For example, if I buy up a bunch of expiring domains and start linking to slashdot.org with links saying things like "hot xxx bestiality porn", should it start showing up
            • Yeah, I misquoted - my fault entirely.

              Maybe I'm not communicating my point accurately either. I was really trying to focus on the ridiculous statement "Google should know what I'm looking for" (or something to that effect). Google has a pretty decent idea of what you may be looking for, and that's about as good as it's going to get. A search engine has cultural and social hurdles that it just cannot address with pure logic. Personal perspective can really distort whether or not your search results are "rele
              • I was really trying to focus on the ridiculous statement "Google should know what I'm looking for" (or something to that effect). Google has a pretty decent idea of what you may be looking for, and that's about as good as it's going to get. A search engine has cultural and social hurdles that it just cannot address with pure logic. Personal perspective can really distort whether or not your search results are "relevant".

                I disagree on two counts. Firstly, Google should know what I'm search for; that's wh

                • Firstly, Google should know what I'm search for; that's what it's there for.

                  Its there as a honeypot for your eyes so they can sell them to advertisers.

                  It is unreasonable to expect google to know exactly what I'm thinking every time but the way I read the OP was that google should get as near as possible.

                  My problem with this mentality is that near as possible is dependent on the person searching and these reference points (peoples preconception of results) are distancing themselves from each other pretty qui
                  • Its there as a honeypot for your eyes so they can sell them to advertisers.

                    That is not google's function as it relates to the internet, or to me. That is its purpose in with respect to its shareholders and its executives.

                    My problem with this mentality is that near as possible is dependent on the person searching and these reference points (peoples preconception of results) are distancing themselves from each other pretty quickly on a growing number of topics. The one world view definition is inaccurate.

                    • That is not google's function as it relates to the internet, or to me. That is its purpose in with respect to its shareholders and its executives.

                      Sorry, that was its designed purpose from the get go. Your use of a tool does not dictate its purpose. I can use a screwdriver to stab you, that is not a screw drivers purpose. You may me able to argue as far as function, but thats it. Google's business model (its purpose) was to build an awesome search engine so it could advertise to the searchers. Your use of th
      • So if they didn't allow it in the first place, that's OK, but they did allow it but later fixed it to not allow it, it's bad?

        I don't think it matters if the spamming was relevant, I'd prefer an indexing system that discourages spamming. Usually the products or brands being spammed aren't as good anyway.
      • It sounds like someone that doesn't like the fact that Google is doing it for the sole reason of improving its image in the world and not for the reason that its algorithms shouldn't have allowed it to occur in the first place.
        Who says they are doing for the sole reason of improving their image? Not Google.
      • by mdwh2 (535323)
        It's just you IMHO. It sounds like someone that doesn't like the fact that Google is doing it for the sole reason of improving its image in the world and not for the reason that its algorithms shouldn't have allowed it to occur in the first place.

        So what, they shouldn't fix their algorithms if they find something wrong? They should act in a way that makes people think badly of them?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by drinkypoo (153816)

      More telling is his conclusion, which typically is a summary of the article, in which he basically says "google belongs to google". Wow. Now THAT is a revelation. Next thing you'll tell me is that the police department doesn't belong to me. That might really break my mind.

      He's not even arguing that preventing googlebombing is a bad thing! All he says is that he's concerned that google is preventing googlebombing to protect their corporate image. I have news for this idiot: google is a corporation. They

      • by QuickFox (311231) on Thursday February 01, 2007 @03:12PM (#17847970)

        but other than that they do a pretty good job
        No, they do a terrible job. They endorse and encourage domain squatting [google.com].
        • by drinkypoo (153816)
          Now THAT is the best anti-google argument I have ever heard. Thanks, I will keep it in mind. Mind you, I don't give google any money, although I do understand that I enhance their value to advertisers by providing another pair of eyeballs (not that I click on ads. even the google text ads, usually. If I want to find a product, I search for it, I don't have it searching for me.)
        • by emurphy42 (631808)

          But not squatting on names that rightfully belong to specific other entities, at least. From the FAQ: [google.com]

          As a courtesy to trademark owners, Google provides a simple publicly available complaint procedure and, once notified of a legitimate complaint against a specific domain, Google will no longer serve ads to that domain.
      • by susano_otter (123650) on Thursday February 01, 2007 @07:30PM (#17852162) Homepage

        Next thing you'll tell me is that the police department doesn't belong to me. That might really break my mind.
        Actually, unless you toil under a non-democratic regime, the police department does belong to you.

        Of course, it belongs equally to several hundred thousand of your fellow citizens, and you've all agreed on a layer of bureaucracy between you and the police, to prevent each of you from trying to exercise direct control over the police department on an individual basis according to your whims and moods.

        If you can think of a better way to manage a publically-owned police department, I'm sure political scientists the world over would be eager to hear about it.
    • Actually, this is the guy that made his living saying IT doesn't matter [wikipedia.org].
    • I was just thinking that. Surely as long as every page is judged by the same metrics (Ie there's no rule that specifies where the page should be based on things like the domain, and it's purely on content and links) then Google still isn't 'tweaking the results' to fit what they want to see.
  • by Bandman (86149) <bandman AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday February 01, 2007 @02:44PM (#17847432) Homepage
    They tweaked the algorythm so that it fixed googlebombs in general, not manually removed these particular bombs. In fact, in the text about the tweak, they specifically stated that they changed the algorythm so it would work with multiple languages, etc
    • Yeah the "at the end of the day they have complete control of what rises to the top" line gives it away. Google is so smart they can anticipate EVERY POSSIBLE use of their code? If they are, they should buy M$ and fix all the damn bugs and security vulnerabilities in their products.
      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by skoaldipper (752281)

        Google is so smart they can anticipate EVERY POSSIBLE use of their code? If they are, they should buy M$ and fix all the damn bugs and security vulnerabilities in their products.

        What? And put Symantec, McAfee, and countless IT professionals out of business? How dare you!

        Actually, if you read the autobiographical companion to Earth in the Balance, in the book of Disseminations 3:2-10, Al Gore recounts a preminition that consumed him shortly after Clinton passed him the reefer:

        "And I looked [fffft!

      • by delinear (991444)
        Why buy MS and waste valuable time and resources fixing bugs when they can just continue their efforts to make more applications web-based, where the user's O/S becomes meaningless? Google have the perfect basis to start offering completely cross platform, device independent solutions (and their current business model means they can offer these solutions free of charge to the end consumer, a price MS would find it very difficult to compete with). No, I think Google has much bigger plans than merely buying M
        • Because if my computer is so clogged with mal-ware that I can't get to Google's website, then their work is for naught. But the reason I said that was to illustrate the point that NO ONE can anticipate every possible way people will try to use their code.
    • by UbuntuDupe (970646) * on Thursday February 01, 2007 @03:22PM (#17848132) Journal
      Exactly. I'm tired of people jumping to the conclusion that Google used some crude, quickfix solution to googlebombs, like manually removing that particular bomb, or ending the use of links and pagerank. PLEASE -- give them just a teensy weensy bit of credit here. If you really think they just inserted those particular phrases (e.g., "miserable failure") directly into the search engine's code, then please -- try another Googlebomb. If the fix really was just for the known, existing googlebombs, you should have no problem stacking Google's results again. If you can't do that, then do us a favor, and shut the hell up until you know what you're talking about.
      • If you really think they just inserted those particular phrases (e.g., "miserable failure") directly into the search engine's code, then please -- try another Googlebomb.
        How about "french military victories"? It still "works".
        • Well, kind of, but it's different from most Googlebombs, because the page is actually about French Military Victories, and contains that text, in bold. You won't find the text 'miserable failure' in George Bush's biography.
          • Autobiography (Score:3, Interesting)

            by benhocking (724439)

            You won't find the text 'miserable failure' in George Bush's biography.

            You might - it depends on the author. ;)

            However, you're correct that you won't find it in his autobiography.

            Still - good point about the page actually containing the phrase that was being searched for.

    • by anaesthetica (596507) on Thursday February 01, 2007 @03:45PM (#17848598) Homepage Journal

      Yeah, they looked into it more deeply and found that apparently what happened is that googlebombs originally weren't supposed to work, but through some kind of glitch in the algorithm, they still got a pagerank bump.

      So they just went ahead and fixed the glitch. Googlebombs won't be receiving a pagerank bump, so it'll just work itself out naturally. Google always likes to avoid confrontation, whenever possible. Problem is solved from their end.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Kelson (129150) *
        Um... yeah. Mr. Miserable Failure? We're going to have to ask you to move your desk down into the basement, mmmkay? And if you get a chance, while you're down there, you could squash some bugs in the code, that'd be great.
    • by vocaro (569257) *

      algorythm [urbandictionary.com]: the funky beat to which Al Gore dances

  • Pitr? (Score:5, Funny)

    by srw (38421) * on Thursday February 01, 2007 @02:45PM (#17847448) Homepage
    I'm not sure how they can keep saying they do no evil now that Pitr works there.

  • Axes to grind ? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CmdrGravy (645153) on Thursday February 01, 2007 @02:51PM (#17847570) Homepage

    The results you get from Google are tweaked by a number of factors, and at the end of the day the company has complete control over what rises to the top
    You don't say ! Luckily I like the fact Google does its best to cut out the nonsense spam sites which seem to be intent on swamping the web. Whoever wrote this article seems to me to be a little too concerned about this and makes me suspect he is some kind of spam merchant himself.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by smoker2 (750216)

      Luckily I like the fact Google does its best to cut out the nonsense spam sites which seem to be intent on swamping the web.
      Yeah right, "Find Brain Surgery at Ebay" is always relevant to a search.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by krotkruton (967718)
      That's what I thought at first too, but then I thought about my mom, who only three years ago asked me how to rewind the DVD before taking it back to the video store and last year told me to stop signing up for porn on her computer (which I never even use) because she keeps seeing ads that say "Girls from want to date you!". Just yesterday my roommate asked got an instant message from some girl he didn't know that asked him to check out a picture of them so she could add it to facebook, and he actually cl
  • Sounds To Me (Score:5, Insightful)

    by moore.dustin (942289) on Thursday February 01, 2007 @02:52PM (#17847584) Homepage
    Sounds to me like Google just made their product/service better is all. Of course Google can control what goes to the top of the search engine - that is what they do. They are "doing no evil" by upgrading and refining their algorithms if anything.

    Just because people cannot ghost and bomb their pages to get quick boosts in pagerank does not mean that Google is doing evil, it just means they were never good at their jobs to begin with.
  • by oneiros27 (46144) on Thursday February 01, 2007 @03:00PM (#17847750) Homepage
    From the rant:

    But last week, after years of taking a fairly laissez-faire attitude toward Googlebombing, Google decided to put an end to the popular sport. It incorporated into its search engine a Googlebomb-sniffing algorithm that somehow manages to identify and neutralise any concerted effort to skew search results for a word or phrase.
    So um ... they changed pagerank so pages that actually contain a phrase are ranked higher than pages that don't contain the phrase?

    Now, given that this originally was their strong point as compared to other search engines, and they picked up many more articles that were useful, yes, it might be a problem. However, you could also say that the simple fact that they used an algorithm that hadn't been gamed by all of the 'search engine optimized' as their real advantage, and there may be an advantage to changing it so that it's a moving target.

    I mean, how awful would it be if we actually found the stuff we were looking for when we searched, rather than the search engine spam? If it gives worse results, then it's a problem ... but let's wait and see how it goes, and let the market sort things out.
  • I see (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 01, 2007 @03:01PM (#17847764)
    French Military Victories [google.co.uk] still works. Guess that one really must be objective information.
    • My guess is that the "tweaking" they have done actually just consist on demanding that the page contains the term being searched for. Which is bad, since sometimes the best page uses an alternative terminology for the subject you are looking for.

      If I'm right, we can resume googlebombing simply by picking the words or phrases from the page we want to "bomb".
  • I'm not sure if it qualifies as a Googlebomb because there was no intent to increase page ranking, but I've been astonished at how quickly vandalized Wikipedia pages show up on Google. Considering that most vandalism is removed in minutes, it almost seems that Google's spider sits there and waits for new stuff to pounce on.

    By contrast, I administer a MediaWiki installation for a non-profit organization. I get link spam constantly, but that fails to appear on Google. I can only assume the search engine kno

  • OpenGoogle (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Thursday February 01, 2007 @03:04PM (#17847826) Homepage Journal
    Google should expose at least part of their ranking formula as a dead-simple GUI to control parameters to Google users. That way we can control our own "Google" rankings according to our own agendas. People could share their params with friends so we don't have to figure out what to do to be trustworthy, just which of our friends' searching techniques we trust. Just like in the real world.

    Doing so would go a long way towards making it less necessary to trust Google. Eventually we would be best served by a totally open ranking client that searches multiple competing backend indices. But if Google handed us "trust web" to do it ourselves, they'd probably preempt that inevitable infomediation that would also disconnect them from the users, and thereby from their highest value relationship.
    • by Pinkfud (781828)
      On the face of it, I would agree. But I'm afraid all that would happen is that a search for shoe stores would bring up hundreds of porn sites. Give a mess-maker better tools, and he will make bigger messes.
      • by Doc Ruby (173196)
        That's why sharing the configs is so important. Wired magazine, for example, could share several different configs in an article about how they produce different results. And part of the SEO game would be promoting the configs best suited to feature your site. But the straitjacket would be slipped for those who care to live free.
    • I'm not sure why you think this would end the arms race between search engines and abusers.

      Granted, if Google's ranking system were perfect having it open would do no harm, but since it an evolving solution the inevitable result of full disclosure would be abusers being handed the tools to hone their skewing of the results to razor-sharp precision, leaving honest folk in the dust.

      Blind trust in Google would be foolish, but at least I remain relatively sure that Google and I have one thing in common: nei
      • by Doc Ruby (173196)
        Google can keep fighting its war against the spammers. That's one reason why I suggested that Google could keep some parameters secret.

        But I would no longer have to have to depend on the illusion that my interests are identical to Google's.
  • Careful (Score:2, Funny)

    by markov_chain (202465)
    You guys will get Slashdot in trouble, what if the Boston police are reading this article?

  • Google is a private company. Its mission is to provide a product that people find useful while making money off advertisement. Google bombs run counter to both purposes, but removing them is obviously not a democratic process. Since domain name system doesn't seem to working for this purpose, I guess we do need a government or non-profit entity providing unbiased search results where each web site will be allowed to register keywords that accurately reflects its purpose and obvious violators are held respon
    • And as such it has pretty much proven that regardless of the intent of the original entrapreneurs, making money is inversely porportional to doing good.
      • by iamacat (583406)
        Doing good != Democracy. Getting rid of google bombs is doing good for a typical user, its just done by means other than users voting with their clicks.
        • Doing good != Democracy.

          See, that's a pretty strange statement to me, in and of itself.

          Getting rid of google bombs is doing good for a typical user, its just done by means other than users voting with their clicks.

          Censorship of political speech is never good for the typical user.
          • by Pope (17780)
            Feel free to not use Google then. I'll be happy when there are NO shitty domain typo/search term squatter pages in the world, "Googlebombs" be damned.
            • Feel free to not use Google then. I'll be happy when there are NO shitty domain typo/search term squatter pages in the world, "Googlebombs" be damned.

              This is about far more than just google- though the error in their pagerank routine opened the door. It's really about protecting free speech even when you dislike the use of that speech- an ideological position that I believe we've made our respective points on. I may not like what you say- but I'll defend to the death your right to say it. Are domain ty
          • by iamacat (583406)
            I am not publishing your political speech on my homepage, and I don't see why Google should have to either. Don't me or Google have free speech rights as well?
            • You do. Google, however, has arguably given up their censorship rights voluntarily by having the "Do no Evil" clause in their charter *AND* seeking to become a portal. In other words, by doing those two things, they raised the public expectation of the company to a different standard than that which governs you. Censorship is *definately* evil, in all cases. Does this mean they have to have links to any given website on their home page? NO- because that's not how google works. The user of google has t
  • They are still evil for their encouragement of the Chinese government's censorship and jack-booted press tactics. The Shrubya googlebomb actually gave them a karma point back, and now they've gone and thrown it away.
    I choose to search with other sites since they are not only evil, but hypocrites.
  • by honkycat (249849) on Thursday February 01, 2007 @03:52PM (#17848724) Homepage Journal
    Google's explanation for why they hadn't fixed this in the past was that Googlebombs never displaced useful searches. That is, they didn't get in the way of many people actually trying to find information. The canonical, "miserable failure" example illustrates this -- is there any reason to expect that Google would give you useful hits for that search? I can't think of a reason to use that search that unless you were just curious about what Google would return.

    It was clear from Google's release that they considered the Googlebombs a perhaps amusing nuisance, but it wasn't something they supported. Rather, it just wasn't worth the effort of fixing since that effort would be at the cost of other development that they felt would do more to improve user searches.

    Now, they found that people were assuming these funny responses were somehow endorsed by Google. They could put up a disclaimer, but a) not many people actually read fine print, and b) many would not believe the disclaimer anyway. Since the Googlebombs didn't actually serve any useful purpose and Google didn't want to be mistaken for endorsing whatever might be inferred from the presence of these odd search results, they did away with it. That's perfectly legitimate.

    So, Google really DID claim they were making a minor improvement to their search results through this change, but that wasn't the highest priority. It's not like they've got any particular duty to maintain details of the PageRank algorithm. Further, protecting their image IS an important goal, particularly when it can be done through a means that has a positive impact on the searches. Too bad that a cute Google game is gone, but another one will crop up before long, I'm sure...

    • by magixman (883752)

      Now, they found that people were assuming these funny responses were somehow endorsed by Google.
      You bet they did. I can't tell you how many bright, thoughtful and technology savvy folks I showed the 'failure' search to who just assumed it was some sort of joke that those crazy kids in Mountain View were foisting on us. I think Google's reasoning for taking this step is legitimate and I respect the fact that they were honest about it.
      • by honkycat (249849)
        I thought the same at first, actually, then one of them spontaneously broke (I think it started linking to a story about its being a googlebomb instead).
  • by Lazerf4rt (969888) on Thursday February 01, 2007 @04:17PM (#17849100)

    Here are a few shining turds from TFA:

    The company is allowing concerns about its public image to influence the search results it dishes up.

    Wow! What the hell motivation do you think Google was built on in the first place? The motivation was to achieve popularity, by being a good search engine. Yes, that's the "public image" they aimed for. So, what changed?

    Let's not forget that Google's machine is not our machine. It's Google's, for better or worse.

    OMG. Do you actually mean to tell me... I didn't invent Google?

    Seriously, the entire lame article was just one big excuse to use the word "salubrious".

  • So they ensure that the linking text uses words that are consistent with the linked document, before correlating the linking text with the linked document. It might be sophisticated enough for handling synonyms or extracting characteristic words from the document using machine learning. This is a nice iterative improvement to their algorithms. Why is it that every mention of Google induces strong resentment? Google can do no good among so many here. So Google is having its time in the public and press
  • by adnonsense (826530) on Thursday February 01, 2007 @05:21PM (#17850126) Homepage Journal

    See this Yahoobomb [yahoo.com], which faithfully links to the world's number one mostest miserable failure [whitehouse.gov] of all time.

    Microsoft's search offering [live.com] (a Billbomb?) only comes up with Jimmy Carter and Michael Moore, at places two and seven respectively, with the rest of the results being links to stories about the Googlebomb as it pertains to that miserable failure [whitehouse.gov].

  • I can remember a time when Googling "crappy software" resulted in Micro$oft being the first result.
  • ... news at 11!

    Wow, Google is able to control the ranking of pages in their own search engine by tweaking their own algorithms? That's a surprise to me!
  • It's impossible that the company has total control of what comes up for every query. There are simply too many queries and too many pages. Anybody who wants to control that needs hundreds of billions of control knobs. Google would need a lot of employees to twist and turn them.

    BTW, the suggested approach was tried by AskJeeves and failed. They needed too many editors to edit page ranks per keyword and combinations. And they covered not even 1% of the pages Google covers.
  • "While the general image of Google is still that it 'does no evil'"

    Bullshit [slashdot.org].
  • At least that is my honest opinion.

    Gone are the days that people used 99% of their time to work on content. Now in some cases it's 50% content, and 50% kissing Google's ass in some SEO-optimizing obsessive compulsive way to get on the main page.

    And it's just one search engine. A search engine with a nearly $100 Billion market capitalization. Who know has a "terms of service" that makes people alter their content to please Google. And people find this sane.

    People's 'net worth are now being determin

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