Lookin' For Liv In All The Wrong Places
One of the great things about Google is that it has really stood apart from other crawler-based search engines in fending off spam. Its heavy reliance on link analysis, among other factors, has made life difficult for those seeking to manipulate Google's results. However, a recent story about how a porn site achieved some top rankings has shown that even Google is vulnerable to spam, though the black eye it has received is more than it deserves.
The porn site created doorway pages for different celebrities such as Phoebe Cates and Liv Tyler, which were discovered to appear top ranked for corresponding searches such as "Phoebe Cates nude" and "Liv Tyler nude." The success of these pages was described in an article from GeekPress, then commented upon within Slashdot, which led to a follow up article in GeekPress. The issue was whether or not Google was "fooled," as GeekPress puts it, into returning these pages as relevant.
Yeah, Google was fooled. While a message forwarded to Slashdot from Google suggested that there were no relevant results for something like "Liv Tyler nude," I think it's obvious that Google has set its standards high enough that giving top billing to fake discussion pages isn't what it considers optimal performance. Moreover, GeekPress makes an excellent argument that there are indeed relevant sites for Liv Tyler nude out on the web (sorry, Liv).
Is this a big deal? Nah. I'd be much more concerned if porn sites were coming up for searches on "Liv Tyler" alone, rather than her name plus "nude."
Google's not perfect, and I'm sure we'll continue to see little things like this crop up. However, such flaws seem much worse than they are primarily because Google has set the bar so high in the relevancy game. For the most part, it continues to dazzle people with its amazing high jumps, and a slight stumble now and then shouldn't be confused with a broken leg. Whew -- I think I winded myself pushing that metaphor too far :)
GeekPress, Oct. 30, 2000
The original story about the high-ranking porn pages at Google.
Reports Of Google's Demise Exaggerated
Slashdot, Oct. 31, 2000
Discussion thread contains comments from Google and lots of defense of the search engine.
Still Scamming Google
GeekPress, Oct. 31, 2000
Written in response to criticism at Slashdot and to disprove comments from Google, this article goes into detail that there are indeed relevant sites for "Liv Tyler nude," including even some non-porn sites.
Did Smut Spammers Scam Google?
Wired News, Nov. 1, 2000
Wired nicely wraps up the entire issue.
More Evil Than Dr. Evil?
The Search Engine Report, Nov. 1, 1999
Perhaps Google-blips are an annual thing, because a year ago, the now-notorious "more evil than satan" query eclipsed sex as a top search on Google. Why? The top result returned was Microsoft, and everyone had to try it for themselves. Want to bet "Liv Tyler nude" is rising in the rankings right now at Google?