Google is still pretty broken

If you’ve been keeping up with this story, you’ll notice that it’s been hitting the blogs (like this good post over at Wired, Google’s Bad Hair Week) like crazy. At first glance it looked like Google fixed some kind of issue for the main blogs making all the noise (like mine and Tony’s), but the more I went back to doing my normal work, the more I noticed that it wasn’t just me that was having problems, but many of the sites I was link mining for.

Mind you, I’m a power-user when it comes to Google. I have the search-fu, and I have an uncanny knack for remembering what I read online, who wrote it and where I can find it. I have a few precise techniques I use to get the exact thing I’m looking for to come out on top in Google so my work is fast and easy when I’m compiling posts or articles. However, when I put together the Top Ten Sex Memes of 2006 post for Boing Boing, I almost lost my mind trying to find links that should have been a snap to call up. Most notably, I couldn’t for the life of me get specific Boing Boing posts to come up as a primary result — I could only get secondary content referring to the posts, which is frustrating beyond belief when you’re trying to get a URL. I spent a long time trying to get Boing Boing’s “Google: search this site” to work, to no avail. To get the URLs of posts I knew were there, I had to go into the archives, only a few months old. And yes, Boing Boing knows about it now; I’m sure they’ll get help from Google.

Sane thing happened when I was trying to find Mark Morford’s SFGate article about Google Trends. I typed in (no quotes) Mark Morford Google Trends and got secondary content. I did many variables, even adding sfgate (another technique of mine to get right to the URL) and got nothing. I wound up going into the SFGate archives and looking page by page to find the article.

Now when I type in Mark Morford Google Trends the article comes up at the top. But when I repeat my Boing Boing searches, still secondary reproductions of the content (or merely mentions on other blogs). And while “Violet Blue” was temporarily restored to the top spot, it’s slipped again to #3, and if you look for my Top Ten Sexiest Geeks of 2006 post, you can only find sites mentioning or mirroring reposts about my original post on other sites.

So it’s not just me, but I’m in a hell of a quandary, as a someone who wants to have their content found, and as a blogger/online columnist who uses Google as a tool — and needs it to function properly. It’s not.

I’ll concede that I need to clean up the code on my blog, but I’m just guessing (as we all are) as to why this suddenly *might* need to be done.

Nick Denton asked me if Google responded to me, and the answer is still no. But Google’s Matt Cutts responded to Tony Comstock, and then some. I do feel odd that I’m left out of any of the ongoing discussion that’s between the guys, namely Tony and Matt. Matt has been asking Tony a lot of questions about sex on the web, something I’ve been blogging about for years professionally, with some pretty stringent ethics in my link practices. I also wrote a book about porn, with a chapter (and more) on safe porn surfing (along with my highly trafficked and much reposted porn-and-sex-on-the-internet tutorial*).

* This page also no longer comes up in search as it had previously, nor its Boing Boing repost which I also can’t find right now to point you to, aaargh. Maybe that’s why Cutts didn’t think to include me in his queries about sex on the web, because he tried to search for information on Google and came up dry.

Perhaps the most informative and best article about this whole mess is Jason Miller’s Google Hates Indie Porn? Miller explains a possibility: Google’s supposedly new 30-rank penalty for violating its automated spam detection system. To me, this means two things. If this is part of the problem, then blogs and sites can fall off the map (as it were) at any minute, making any given Google search — a snapshot in web time — impossible to accept as ever being accurate. It also means that if the Google penalty is invoked by a sudden increase in link traffic, then people can be dropped at any time for being good at what they do.

Still frustrating in all this, is seeing blogs like Search Engine Land and Wired come up in Google News with this story, but not Boing Boing.

Ultimately what it all means to me is that I need to find a better tool for my work.

Update, from my brain: Um, seriously read Tony’s utterly fucking eye-opening post where he goes back and forth with the head of Google’s webspam team about Google trying to find out what sex and porn sites are “good” and “bad”. (And, I am extremely disturbed by this good vs. bad thing in reference to something so subjective and individuated, as human sexuality is, *and* I wonder what is going to happen with this information.) It’s clear by reading this post that Google absolutely does not have the tools — or current knowledge — to evaluate sex on the web. And possibly a lot of other things as well. This is how they do it? Really? They need a community liaison for each of the types of spam they’re expected to deal with, because it’s crystal clear they are in the dark. Okay, and the Google guy’s pick of True Porn Clerk Stories? Um, this was over in 2002, so I guess I can at least give him credit for admitting he’s out of date with the current online sex culture… *huge sad sigh*

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