Google Goofs Accumulate

    May 17, 2007

Earlier today, a feature on Google’s new Experimental Search site drew a comparison between Australian politician Kevin Rudd and Hitler.  The primary engine also caught Wikipedia at a bad time – a search for “George Washington” showed a result claiming our first president had, um, “defecated” on a stick.

If just one of these mistakes had occurred, this article wouldn’t exist.  They are, after all, just “goofs,” not damning faults.  But as a pair, Hitler and poo make for such a nice theme that I couldn’t resist.

In reference to Kevin Rudd, the Sydney Morning Herald broke the story: “‘On 30 January 1933 Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany,’ reads the first dot on one of the timeline searches for the federal opposition leader.”  I’m not familiar with Australian politics, but “federal opposition” doesn’t sound too close to “Nazi.”

The Herald supports this conclusion.  “The search result extract in question,” it explains, “comes from an article Mr Rudd wrote on German theologian and anti-Nazi activist Dietrich Bonhoeffer that appeared on a Sydney Anglican website in 2005 when he was opposition foreign affairs spokesman.”

Well . . . at least it was one of Google’s experiments, and not a finished product, that made the error.  The matter involving Wikipedia is a little trickier to judge.

“Someone edited the start of the Wikipedia entry about the first US president to be less than flattering,” wrote Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan.  “Google spidered the entry, and that material was used to form the description of Washington’s Wikipedia page, as shown below.”  Sullivan’s screenshot will explain the rest.

The case has since gotten a bit muddled; “BanyanTree,” a Wikipedia administrator, has entered a discussion in the “Comments” section, and Sullivan (one of the most respected and reliable people in the search industry) now says, “I’ll go with what Wikipedia is reporting officially – that this edit was up for one minute, and it just happened to be that was the minute Google came a calling.”

Still, the combination of the Wikipedia/Google goof and the Experimental Search smear puts some pie on Google’s face.  And, in an ideal world, perhaps some other substance would have wound up on Hitler’s.