Google defuses 'link bombs'

SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) - US President George W. Bush is no longer Google's top response to Internet searches for "miserable failure."

Queries for French military victories no longer take one to "defeats."

Links to web pages about Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva no longer pop up in searches in Portuguese for "drunken despot."

And Russian Internet users that type "enemy of the people" into Google are not directed to a biography of that nation's leader, Vladimir Putin.

The Mountain View, California-based search colossus says it has finally defused such "Googlebombs," search term results rigged by clever outsiders to make comic or critical commentary.

"By improving our analysis of the link structure of the Web, Google has begun minimizing the impact of many Googlebombs," Ryan Moulton and Kendra Carattini of Google wrote in a company weblog.

"Now, we will typically return commentary, discussions, and articles about the Googlebombs instead."

Google described the programming change as "pretty small," saying there were fewer than 100 well-known Googlebombs, also referred to as "link bombs" because they provide links to unrelated websites under the guise of answering the query.

For example, a Google search for French military victories had prompted a replica of a search engine page and the question "Did you mean military defeats?" as though the searcher's original quest was in vain.

Searches for "failure," "fiasco," and "miserable" in various languages resulted in links to various countries' current or former leaders.

A search in Danish for "primitive troll" provided a link to an official page for that nation's prime minister, while the query "mouton insignificant" (unimportant sheep) led searchers to a biography for the premier of Quebec, Canada.

"Because these pranks are normally for phrases that are well off the beaten path, they haven't been a very high priority for us," Moulton and Carattini explained in their blog.

"But over time, 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."

Rather than deactivating Googlebombs by hand, Google engineers developed a search algorithm to neutralize them.

"Computers can process lots of data very fast, and robust algorithms often work well in many different languages," Moulton and Carattini wrote.

"That's what we did in this case, and the extra effort to find a good algorithm helps detect Googlebombs in many different languages."

Google ranks search results based on a mathematical model that factors in key words and popularity of websites.

While Google has known about link bombs for years, it had previously expressed reluctance to defuse them individually because it didn't want to tinker with the objectivity of its Internet search model.

Google cautioned that some link bombs will slip past the algorithm net, which will be tightened based on feedback from searchers.