Saturday, June 23, 2007

About Brad Pitt and You: Search engine trick barks up wrong tree

Pursuing my obsession with search engines [and myself] led me to enter my name into dogpile, self-described as "all the best search engines piled into one." In other words a so-called meta-search engine that pulls results from other search engines. What I found was quite interesting and applies to everyone, so you might want to try it. Go to dogpile.com and search for your exact name plus any other person, like Brad Pitt, or a place, or a thing. As an example, I put this in the search box:

"Fred Whassaname" gold

The first result from that search is a sponsored one. The second result from that search or any other search that follows the name/gold pattern, is a page at About.com that is headed "Gold Jewelry - How to Buy Gold Jewelry." The URL of this result is:
holidays.about.com/od/fashion/a/gold_jewelry.htm.

When you go to this page via the above search you will not find any mention of Fred in the text of the page, but if you search the source code of the page you will see an interesting trick at the bottom, an html IMG SCR tag that points to page at the New York Times, a page with the name in it:

http://up.nytimes.com/?d=1/&g=T&h=76NFF02820kA
012J&hs=76NFF02820kA012J&t=2&r=http%3a%2f%2fww
w%2edogpile%2ecom%2finfo%2edogpl%2fsearch%2fweb%2f
%25252522Fred%25252BWhassaname%25252522%25252Bgold
%2f1%2f%2d%2f1%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f1%2f%2d%2f%2d%2
f%2d%2f1%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d
%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2
f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%
2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d
%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2
f%2d%2f417%2ftop%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f%2d%2f1&u=http%
3A%2F%2Fholidays%2eabout%2ecom%2fod%2ffashion%2fa%
2fgold%5fjewelry%2ehtm


In other words, the New York Times, which owns About.com, makes up pages on the fly, just to meet your search criteria. Making things up is not what one would expect from the New York Times, not after it got rid of those plagiarizing journalists. And one consequence of this nasty little search hack is that you can enter your name together with that of your favorite movie star and get a bunch of hits that appear to link you with that person. But it also means you can get a bunch of hits off:

"Fred Whassaname" felon

This raises the possibility that someone could conclude, if they just go by the number of hits, that poor Fred is a felon. There's no basis for this and somehow it just feels wrong.
.

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