|By A.D. Freudenheim||
6 May 2002
Ever since I started writing a weekly column on this web site, I have periodically checked a variety of web search engines to find out whether my site is listed, and with what combination of words it can be discovered. Inclusion in a search engine is by no means like winning the lottery - it does not dramatically change the nature of the web site or the volume of visitors. But it does give an indication of whether others might find the site, and it has, now and then, directed browsers to my articles; I know because they periodically e-mail me to say as much.
As part of my web searches, I have always tested the Google (http://www.google.com) engine first; it is my search engine of choice, as much for its accuracy as for its devotion to a "lo-fi" approach (minimal graphics, no banner ads, great response speed). And as part of my web searching, it has also been a point of pride that I have been relatively easy to find in Google. Searching on a variety of keywords usually returned my site within the top 30 suggested links, while looking by name always brought up this site in the top 10 suggestions. This was always gratifying, in the same way most of us feel an odd sense of pleasure when any product we have selected lives up to the reputation we have projected onto it.
Two weeks ago, I went rather randomly to conduct my tests again; having written so consistently about the chaos in the Middle East, I wanted to see if my small pile of words made any kind of impact in the mountain of content that had been produced and is available on the web. I was not particularly surprised to find that I could not immediately locate my own site among the thousands of returned hits. Undeterred, I reverted to my fall-back position - searching for my name, and for the name of the site itself.
Bizarrely, no luck. Nothing. Searching for "A.D. Freudenheim," "thetruthasiseeit," or even "thetruthasiseeit.com" might be cheating - after all, how likely is the average person to put in these terms? - but they served as my failsafe. If my web site comes up using these terms, as it always had, then I would at least know that my site was in their database engine, somewhere. It was no guarantee anyone would ever find me, but it was a mild reassurance that I could be found, if someone looked hard enough. Yet after all this time - I started this site in mid-2000 - I suddenly was not listed on Google at all. I added some more words; I looked for combinations of words that could only lead here; and I started searching for terms that might lead to other web sites I publish. Still nothing!
What makes Google an interesting and useful tool is that unlike search engines that look only for content, or for some combination of content and consistency, Google also searches other sites to see where a given web page is referenced. If a page is mentioned somewhere else - if, say, my web site was mentioned in The New York Times - then the likelihood that someone will find my page increases significantly. It is sort of like checking a web site's personal references: links referring others to your page give your page some credibility. In the case of this site, well, there were never a lot of outside links, but there were always a few: some were on my other web sites (and because the URLs are different, the engine sees them as different, such as http://www.sascha.com), while others were in places like the archive for the Nettime (http://www.nettime.org) mailing list, where I have posted a number of my articles over the past two years. Hardly earth shattering - but, again, it seemed to be enough. (And, in fact, searching for "thetruthasiseeit" on Google will return hits pointing you to my archived columns on Nettime.)
According Google's own information, periodically these changes do happen - sites previously included will be left off, changes to the links in the database will occur. I suppose that what happened may be simply a result of an update to their database, and this site has yet to be re-discovered. Yet how odd that all of the web sites I manage have been removed: www.sascha.com - gone; www.freudenheim.com - gone. Seemingly removed entirely.
I am stumped, totally mystified, and I have no rational explanations handy. Perhaps there has been a flood of letters asking that my sites be removed because of my political views; possible, but since I have received very few e-mails myself, this seems unlikely. Recently, I found out that Google was threatened with legal action by the Church of Scientology, for including a link to a web site in Norway that, the Church claims, violates the copyright it holds to various texts. (This was mentioned in a New York Times article on 22 April 2002, and has also been discussed in other places, such as on the Nettime list.) The conspiracy-theorist in me wonders whether there is a wider plot underway, since I, too, have criticized the Church of Scientology. But I have not violated any copyright laws, and Google seems content to include links about the dispute in its own search engine, so I doubt this is the case.
Maybe it is just a freak of technology, a change in the system that will straighten itself out over time. Until then, I am left with the fact that I have been de-Googled, and I do not know why.
Copyright 2002, by A.D. Freudenheim.
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This page is part of: The Truth As I See It.