Published January 30, 2009
It took four years for Google to address the "Google bomb" that was lobbed at former President Bush.
But it took the Internet behemoth only a few days to defuse the same attack on President Obama.
Four years versus a few days ... Some Googlers are asking why.
In 2003, President Bush's detractors successfully gamed the Google search engine by arranging to have countless Web sites link the words "miserable failure" to Bush's official biography on the White House Web site.
The result was that when someone typed the search term "miserable failure" into the Google search box, Bush's bio rose to the top of the search results.
And that's how it stayed until 2007, when Google developed an algorithm to detect what became known as "Google bombs" and re-directed the term "miserable failure" to non-political pages.
Unfortunately for Obama, "miserable failure" reverted back to his bio when he moved into the White House. The new president was also Google-bombed with the phrase "cheerful achievement."
But this time, Google stepped in quickly, rectifying the situation in a few days, instead of four years.
The difference in time did not go unnoticed.
"You let this go on for the entire Bush administration," a reader named w3bgrrl wrote on a Google blog. "But since you bought the White House for Obama, you don't want your candidates harmed ... And your claims not withstanding, even liberals know you're liberal."
But another writer, Mikkel deMib Svendsen, gave Google the benefit of the doubt.
"I do think many of [Google employees] are liberals but I am also 100% confident that the large majority of them are also very professional people that take the job of creating a good and unbiased search engine very, very seriously," he wrote.
Google itself said the reason it took only a few days to redirect Obama's Google bomb was that, this time, it already had the algorithm in place.
"Though the spirit of change may be in the air in Washington, some things apparently stay the same," Google software engineer Matt Cutts wrote on a Google blog. "After we became aware of this latest Googlebomb, we re-ran our algorithm and it detected the Googlebomb for [cheerful achievement] as well as for [failure]. As a result, those search queries now return discussion about the Google bombs, rather than the original pages that were returned."
In another company blog, Google software engineers Ryan Moulton and Kendre Carattini wrote that the "pranks" aren't a very high priority for the company.
"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," they wrote. "That's not true, and it seemed like it was worth trying to correct that misperception."
Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land, says Google could have acted even faster in Obama's case, and that he was "disappointed" that the Internet giant did not act preemptively last week.
"They knew this was an issue before the inauguration, but it wasn't until after it happened that [Google] finally got to it and said, 'We better re-run our system,'" Sullivan told FOXNews.com.
"I know there are bigger issues to worry about," he said. "But then again, people turn to search engines to try and find information and this is the kind of thing you want them to be paying attention to as part of an overall communication strategy."
Sullivan likened Google bombing to a "neighborhood kid spray-painting on your wall," and he said he expects these kinds of digital antics to continue.
"It's probably going to be an inevitable fact of life for politicians moving forward to see themselves involved in these types of pranks," he said. "But you don't want to go around reacting too much, either."
Asked if he thought Google's reaction to the Bush and Obama Google bombs appeared to be biased, Sullivan replied, "I give them the benefit of the doubt. If you're an Obama friend at Google, waiting until after he's in office is not being a good friend."
According to an article by CNET News, the Obama "cheerful achievement" Google bomb was created by Montreal blogger Eric Baillargeon, who did not return requests for comment.
Obama spokesman Nicholas Shapiro declined to comment Thursday.
A Yahoo! search of "miserable failure," however, returns the official White House biographies of Obama and Bush, respectively. Company officials did not return a request for comment Friday.