Google Bombing Politics

From the just plain stupid way that politicos have been trying to game Google or Youtube, it seems that the very area that could benefit the most from the social web (POLITICS) is either too dumb, too corrupt or too oblivious to see the real opportunity.

Google Bombs are nothing new to most of us who spend a good deal of time online. They were first discussed sometime in 2001 if I remember correctly, so they’ve been a presence for five years now. We’ve seen them used in a variety of ways from humor to mean-spirited attacking.

Perhaps the best known Google Bomb of all time was the “miserable failure” meme that passed around the web a few years ago. Did you miss that one? Head over to Google and type in “miserable failure” and hit the “I’m Feeling Lucky” choice. The result is a product of a large amount of links with similiar keywords (in this case, Dubya and the term miserable failure).

Last year, Google Bombing even made it into the dictionary (for those of us silly people who still actually use non-virtual spell checkers).

However, the latest use of Google Bombing as a means to an end raises concern. Admittedly, our political process in the US is highly flawed and the fact that over 2 billion dollars have been spent on “mid-term” elections while 50 million Americans are uninsured. But, Chris Bowers, a contributer to the “liberal” blog has dreamed up a new scheme to target 50 Republican candidates around the country with a campaign of Google Bombs and AdSense buys.

Fifty or so other Republican candidates have also been made targets in a sophisticated “Google bombing” campaign intended to game the search engine’s ranking algorithms. By flooding the Web with references to the candidates and repeatedly cross-linking to specific articles and sites on the Web, it is possible to take advantage of Google’s formula and force those articles to the top of the list of search results.

…Each name is associated with one article. Those articles are embedded in hyperlinks that are now being distributed widely among the left-leaning blogosphere. In an entry at this week, Mr. Bowers said: “When you discuss any of these races in the future, please, use the same embedded hyperlink when reprinting the Republican’s name. Then, I suppose, we will see what happens.”

But then it gets a little murkier…

An accompanying part of the project is intended to buy up Google Adwords, so that searches for the candidates’ names will bring up advertisements that point to the articles as well. But Mr. Bowers said his hopes for this were fading, because he was very busy.

This really troubles me. Not only does the money part of running for political audience make the idea of doing so prohibit the best Americans from entering politics, but these sorts of algorithm gamings simply dilute the political process and what we expect from voters. I’m ashamed that Bowers is doing this in hopes of electing Democrats, because as a Democrat I feel that we have a more optimistic message grounded in transparency and real democratic principles. This sort of short sighted crap is not needed if our message resonates with voters.

Further, this sort of juvenile tactic shows a complete misunderstanding of the potential for using the web in a constructive way for a political campaign. Howard Dean and Ned Lamonte were officially ordained as “blog elected” candidates by the mostly-ignorant large media outlets, but in reality there still has not been a national candidate to make use of the real power of social memetics or web2.0’ish community. John Edwards has been paying a good deal of attention to this area (even appearing at Gnomedex and on Rocketboom), so I hope Edwards will use what he has learned in his presidential candidacy in 2008. If he does, it will be groundbreaking.

Spending billions of dollars on mudslinging and negative messages might have worked before, but that paradigm is rapidly shifting and politicians seem to be the last people to come to terms with that important point.

So, here’s my plea to politicians: Stop trying to game the system and wake up to the constructive possibilities of the web. Do blogging right, make good YouTube videos (good meaning full of heart of real creative expression), construct worthwhile social memes and you just might get elected without contributing to a system already filled with greed, ignorance, violence and stupidity.

A New Campaign Tactic: Manipulating Google Data – New York Times

How Much of a South Carolinian Are You?

Jamie M. sent me this.  As an ex-pat Southern Carolinian living in Northern Carolina now, I was surprised at the results.

Turns out I’m 100% South Carolinian.

Start with 100 and take off 5 of each question that you answer NO to. The higher the percentage the more of a South Carolinian you are!

1) Do you like sweet tea? Yep
2) Do you get dressed up to go tailgating for a football game? Yep
3a) (Girls) Do you wear you’re pearls with jeans?
3b) (guys) Do you own more than 10 hats but only wear 1? Yep
4) Have you ever gone to the Carolina cup? Yep
5) Have you even been “muddin”? Yep
6) Have you ever spent a day at “the river”? Yep
7) Do you own anything with the tree and moon on it? Yep
8) Do you love Boiled Peanuts? Yep
9) Have you ever been to some county festival (i.e. Okra strut, peach festival, water festival)? Yep
10) Have you ever been to the “market” in Charleston? Yep
11) Have you spent at least one night partying in 5 points?  Oh Have I??  Yep
12) Have you heard of Shealy’s bbq? Oh HAVE I?? Yep
13) Have you ever spent a night at Myrtle Beach? Yep
14) Do you eat grits on a regular basis? Yep
15) Have you eaten at a waffle house more than once a week?  OH HAVE I????? Yep
16) Do you still use sir/ma’am, please and thank you on a daily basis? Yep
17) Do you know at least part of “the shag”? Yep
18) Have you ridden in the back of a pickup truck? Yep
19) Do you say the word “y’all” all the time? Yep
20) Do you still have that southern charm? Yep

Some things never chage!

Email Problems (Tues Oct 24)

I’m having some email problems with the address.

If you’ve emailed me there today, I probably have not received it.

However, my GMail address is working fine.

Hopefully, the address will be back to normal sometime this evening and I’ll keep you posted.

Blogged with Flock

The Most Important Question for Google

clickfraud.jpgOn October 19, Google announced that their 3rd Quarter profit rose 92% from $381 million a year ago to $733 million. These impressive numbers might lead one to suppose that the most important question facing Google is “what’s next?”. However, that’s not the whole story. Google must deal with the one term that was not discussed during the conference call: click fraud.

The sum of these five things: users, ads, the diversity of our business, the blizzard of new product launches, and the partnership strategy which is in full force, has delivered great, great results and we’re very, very pleased with them.” Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Oct 19 2006

Google’s Q3 earnings call is filled with gems. There are many quotable excerpts that one could take to make declarations about Google’s future plans or their shifting focus from search to comprehensive advertising. In fact, David Jackson takes the transcript and makes the following point concerning the most important questions facing Google post announcement:

Think about it. Google wants there to be more web sites because more websites means more advertisers and also more sites to search. More advertisers, more websites, more searches — and Google dominates online advertising and search.

This is proof that Google is the ultimate Internet business, the ultimate long tail business. The more web sites there are, the better for Google. And Google scales with the growth of the Internet, because its customer interactions are automated.

Simple, but more important than anything else when you’re thinking about Internet stocks.”

That is simple. It’s too simple and not the most important thing about the call or Google’s surging profits or its growing hegemony in the online advertising space. Search through the transcript and try to find the term click fraud. You won’t find that term or any approximation of the potential troubles behind search marketing. There was a panel of highly respected financial institutions on the call:

Mark Mahaney – Citigroup
Robert Peck – Bear Stearns
Mary Meeker – Morgan Stanley
Anthony Noto – Goldman Sachs
Imran Khan – JP Morgan
Christa Quarles – Thomas Weisel
Jordan Rohan – RBC Capital Markets
Ben Schachter – UBS
Bill Morrison – JMP Securities
Justin Post – Merrill Lynch
Safa Rashtchy – Piper Jaffray
Doug Anmuth – Lehman Brothers
Mark Rowen – Prudential
Marianne Wolk – Susquehanna

Yet, no one asked about click fraud. Should there be concern? Yes!

Charles C. Mann made the following point about the amount of click fraud back in January and his insight is still relevant ten months later:

“The amount of click fraud is difficult to quantify; estimates of the proportion of fake clicks run from as low as 1 in 10 to as high as 1 in 2. In a widely cited recent study,, an online marketing research outfit, reported that “as much as 29.5 percent” of the clicks in three experimental PPC campaigns on Google were fraudulent. Whatever the exact figure, click fraud has become pervasive, and Google, Yahoo!, and the other major PPC firms have found themselves caught in a game of cat and mouse with its perpetrators. Even as the search engines shore up their defenses, click scammers are becoming more sophisticated, increasingly deploying complex software to disguise the origins of clicks. For now, the search companies and many of their clients maintain that the problem on their networks is under control. But some observers, like Holcomb, believe that click fraud is “a billion-dollar mess” that “has the potential of destroying the entire industry.”

The amount of click fraud alone should cause Google to address the issue, especially on conference calls announcing record high profits. However, they didn’t address the issue at all. A panel full of Wall Street analysts with the ability to ask questions didn’t approach the issue. And internet analysts such as Jackson aren’t coming close to the importance of the issue in their commentary on Google’s Q3. Have we forgotten about click fraud already or does no one care?

BusinessWeek’s cover story on October 2 dealt with click fraud and the dark side of internet advertising. Most signficant from that article are the following:

“The growing ranks of businesspeople worried about click fraud typically have no complaint about versions of their ads that appear on actual Google or Yahoo Web pages, often next to search results. The trouble arises when the Internet giants boost their profits by recycling ads to millions of other sites, ranging from the familiar, such as, to dummy Web addresses like, which display lists of ads and little if anything else. When somebody clicks on these recycled ads, marketers such as MostChoice get billed, sometimes even if the clicks appear to come from Mongolia. Google or Yahoo then share the revenue with a daisy chain of Web site hosts and operators. A penny or so even trickles down to the lowly clickers. That means Google and Yahoo at times passively profit from click fraud and, in theory, have an incentive to tolerate it. So do smaller search engines and marketing networks that similarly recycle ads.

Google and Yahoo say they filter out most questionable clicks and either don’t charge for them or reimburse advertisers that have been wrongly billed. Determined to prevent a backlash, the Internet ad titans say the extent of click chicanery has been exaggerated, and they stress that they combat the problem vigorously. “Google strives to detect every invalid click that passes through its system,” says Shuman Ghosemajumder, the search engine’s manager for trust and safety. “It’s absolutely in our best interest for advertisers to have confidence in this industry.

That confidence may be slipping. A BusinessWeek investigation has revealed a thriving click-fraud underground populated by swarms of small-time players, making detection difficult. “Paid to read” rings with hundreds or thousands of members each, all of them pressing PC mice over and over in living rooms and dens around the world. In some cases, “clickbot” software generates page hits automatically and anonymously. Participants from Kentucky to China speak of making from $25 to several thousand dollars a month apiece, cash they wouldn’t receive if Google and Yahoo were as successful at blocking fraud as they claim.”

Click fraud is alive and very well for those of you wondering why this may be a big deal. I’ll be blogging more this week about a recent trip down the rabbit hole with the famous (or infamous depending on your persuasion) Wayne Porter. This trip started with an AdSense scraping site making money off of high paying “mesothelioma” keywords and led to some places that caused me severe “shock and awe.” The implications are beyond what I would consider just superficial, and extend well into the very ideas and assumptions that we hold about the internet and the money trail it provides which an lead to some very unsavory places.

We’re all having the wool pulled over our eyes if we focus just on positive aspects of Google’s profit numbers. Of course they deserve laud and magnification for their hard work to increase profits 92% over the past year. However, if 10 to 25% of that money is coming from fraudulant clicks, what does that say about Google’s complete refusal to raise the issue on the conference call? What does that say about the panelist of Wall Street analysts who didn’t ask the question of click fraud?

Even more, what does that say about all of us in the online marketing industry who are commentators and who aren’t saying a thing about click fraud?