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AOL Removes Bush From 'Miserable Failure' Search Results

The “Google bomb” of President Bush ran into a roadblock recently when AOL removed a link to his biography that appears on Google searches for “miserable failure.” AOL did not remove links to the Web sites of prominent Democrats such as filmmaker Michael Moore, Sen. Hillary Clinton and former President Jimmy Carter that also appear on searches.

The links to the political figures' sites appeared after a group of Webloggers last year began to link to Bush's bio on Web pages with the words “miserable failure.” Bush partisans followed suit to include liberal political figures like Moore, Clinton and Carter.

Google bombs take advantage of Google's use of link popularity in its search algorithm. One prank last year linked a search for “weapons of mass destruction” to a Web page that appeared like a Microsoft error message.

AOL, which displays search results by Google, said it removed the link to Bush's Web site under its policy to take out obviously irrelevant results.

AOL did not explain why Bush's site qualified as link spam while those of Moore, Clinton and Carter did not, but said it would stop judging individual links. “Given the increase in link spam and the attention on it, we will focus our efforts on working directly with our partner Google on the larger issue rather than attempt to enforce it one link at a time,” the company said in a statement.

Google was not the only search engine to list politicians' Web sites for “miserable failure” queries. Inktomi, which powers Web search on MSN and soon parent company Yahoo, lists Bush's biography as the top search result.

While noting that Google bombs work mostly for obscure searches, Search Engine Watch editor Danny Sullivan warned that such tactics could spell trouble for Google and other search engines.

“That's a sign that people can go in and manipulate their results,” he said. “It's a very public example, and it doesn't make Google and Inktomi look very good.”

Sullivan said the episode points to the spam problem infecting search engines. He expects further search enhancements, such as personalization and more intuitive search engines, would make it harder to affect search results.

“They'll come up with a new system,” he said.

Google has said that such pranks do not affect the quality of its results because there is no relevant result to searches like “miserable failure” and that it simply reflects the opinion of the Web. A company spokesman was unavailable for comment.

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