free html hit counter The Politics of SERPs | John Battelle's Search Blog

The Politics of SERPs

By - April 13, 2004

NYT today has an overview of the ongoing JewWatch.com case. The case reveals the bind Google faces when asked to remove offensive search results, in this case, the first result for the word “Jew” is an anti-semitic site. I am sure that does not leave many “feeling lucky.”

The company, which is based in Mountain View, Calif., said it had no plans to remove the site from the search results list because it trusts its automated program to rank Web sites accurately. The search engine has been listing “Jewwatch.com” as the first-ranked site for three years.

“We find this result offensive, but the objectivity of our ranking function prevents us from making any changes,” said David Krane, a spokesman for Google, adding that an exception is made only in cases where a site is illegal. Mr. Krane said the company has, for example, removed sites from its rankings that promote pedophilia, which is illegal.

The issue here, it seems to me, is the fact that Google is taken as the first and last word on what our culture believes to be important w/r/t any given term. That jewwatch.org is the first result for “jew” seems counterintuitive to nearly everyone, and clearly offensive. But somehow it has gained the highest ranking – it is a directory, with hundreds of links. Perhaps that is one reason why…and this controversy is only giving it more links…an interesting phenomenon. (I’ve not linked to it in this post for this reason).

Links into Jewwatch.com, according to Google.

According to Technorati.

Apparently, some folks are organizing a counter Google bomb, by linking to the wikipedia entry, which currently ranks at #2. There you go, I just added my pagerank to the cause…

Update: Google has posted an explanation of why this occurs here…that they responded so quickly is cool, I think.

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  • David A

    If you link using the word Jew as the link text, rather than “wikipedia article,” it will have a much greater effect. Your link just increases the PageRank of the Wikipedia article; linking with the word Jew also increases the relevancy of that page to the word Jew specifically. And the more links the better.

  • http://blog.outer-court.com Philipp Lenssen

    For me, JewWatch.com is only at #4. (That’s Google.com on April 13th.)

  • pb

    The controversy here is that some group of people who don’t like Google’s algorithmic results want Google to manually modify them.

    That is atrocious.

  • http://dieselnation.blogs.com Hashim

    Anyone consider that the ranking might be accurate with the users intentions when searching for the word “jew” in Google? Nowadays that word has a slightly negative conotation, and I can imagine an anti-semetic person using that word when searching for a site exactly like Jew Watch.

  • http://worcester.typepad.com/pc4media Peter Caputa

    i agree that google shouldn’t be messing with their algorithm to make the world more politically correct. they do give us the power to do so, though. I’ve posted a link to the wikipedia too.
    http://worcester.typepad.com/pc4media/2004/04/towards_a_more_.html

  • http://www.themediadrop.com Tom

    What I find interesting is that the algorithm works also by where you are. For instance, I’m currently located in New Jersey, and get Wikipedia’s entry first and Jew Watch second – but only because the proxy I’m behind runs through Germany.

    When I go home (a few miles north), I get Jew Watch first. And so does everyone else with a proxy in New Jersey whom I’ve asked. So it’s location-based, too.

  • rich

    one solution to this problem would be to allow users to create a personalised black list of sites they don’t want to see in their SERP’s, therefore allowing users to manually edit the results themselves.

    i’m aware of one Google API powered search that allows this at mySerp. can’t say i’ve seen any others. the system is a bit unpolished at present but then its only Beta.

    maybe google should consider altering their own personalised search system (currently in Beta in the labs) to use this functionality?

  • http://www.yankeefog.com Jacob Sager Weinstein

    PB, I think most of the people who are upset at Google just don’t understand how Google works. It’s not so much “atrocious” as ignorant.

  • http://www.komar.org/hulk/ hulkster

    FYI FWIW: Looks like the GoogleBomb was successful – jewwatch.com is now #2. Even more interesting is that when I click on the link, I get a 403 Forbidden error. Note that I did a cut-paste into a new browser window, so they aren’t just blocking Google referrals – i.e. either they took the site down or maybe it got hacked?