Some people can make a conspiracy out of anything

or The great Google conspiracy thread 🙂

Last year on an engineering mail list someone asked about good ham radio mail lists. One of the early replies, lets call him engineer #1 said:

Search Google Groups with key ‘ham’. Ignore any porky links 😉

Another person (engineer #2) saw that and replied.

Just don’t search for “amateur video” which is a perfectly legitimate Ham radio term……  discovered that the hard way.
Although just for fun  I just checked this search term, it doesn’t seem to be quite as raunchy as before.. and even has one relevant hit on the first page.

I thought that was funny but knew that was probably not what the engineer #1 meant by porky links. I’d seen a small previous rant from him on Google and sure enough engineer #1 responded with this.

Ever since goopile charges money for ranking things have changed. Whoever is not ponying up enough funds does not show up in the cummershally useful first few pages of hits. So much for ‘not doing evil’ (but not much good either). Simple math shows that 100-150 paying punters will displace *everyone* from the first few pages of hits. And there are a lot more than 150 paying punters out there, no matter what the search terms, even with the new ‘we advertise in regular hits but you don’t know it’ approach seen with ieee.org etc papers.

Oh crap this guys got a conspiracy theory about Google searches being totally rigged. Fortunately for me I didn’t have to call this guy out right away because two other engineers replied.

#3) I disagree with that, do a gurgle for … and my site comes top, and has done so for a couple of years.
I have never paid to list it, and never submitted it to any engines.  Simply gets there by magic or whatever. (actually, i believe it is because the site links to a number of other places and gets spidered, but magic sounds better).

#4) I don’t think Google (like some others) accepts payment for search ranking. They do auction off ad positions, but these paid ads are clearly marked as “sponsored links.” I think search position is largely based on the number of relevant links to a page (not from link farms). For example, my page on … comes in number 4 out of 1,810,000.

Engineer #1 comes back with this diatribe.

I think that there are a lot of exceptions that confirm the rule. The rule is that getting a site with ‘usual’ content into a reasonable position is nearly impossible without ‘magic’ involving Ben Franklin effigies changing hands. There is nothing sinister about it (but I’d still want to know why those ieee.org ‘sell’ pages get ranked so high without having content accessible to usual browsers w/o paying).

Most of my domains have what I would consider “usual” (plain, not extraordinary) content and they get good ranking. Well saying good ranking is being optimistic, fair ranking would be more accurate, they get ranked lower than better sites and higher than worse sites. I don’t pay anyone money to improve my ranking and a few others replied to the thread saying they had good rank without paying. It was looking like engineer #1 felt there was a conspiracy against sites he’s worked on. So, I just couldn’t resist stirring the pot by asking for the one thing conspiracy theorists can never provide, evidence.

> I think that there are a lot of exceptions that confirm the rule. The rule is
> that getting a site with ‘usual’ content into a reasonable position is nearly
> impossible without ‘magic’ involving Ben Franklin effigies changing hands.
<snip>
Would you please provide a search term(s) that produces a Google result that illustrates your point.

About thirteen hours later I see this reply from engineer #1.

Sorry for the late answer.

Hmm, why is he apologizing, his reply was 13 hours after my query, on a global mail list 72 hours or more would be considered a late reply. Could he be trying to get on my good side by being polite while avoiding providing any evidence?

I cannot give a direct query, but here is an alternate way:
– enter some search terms in Google
– take the websites for the first two pages of results and search each
– note the order of the websites (which should reflect ranking), and the link count for the search on those websites (which does not)
Of course this is far from perfect, but it busts the myth about ‘relevant results sorted by ranking determined by link count’.

Yep, he can not provide any evidence for his claim and tries to distract me from the request for evidence by asking me to do his work for him. One of the more rational minded engineers on the list replied with good information and links to Google explaining how to get good rank. That skeptical engineer ended his reply with a very funny bit.

This is starting to sound like every other conspiracy nutter thread – “I can’t prove it but I know it’s true”. What colour helicopters do Google use?  Stripes?  No use looking for them in GoogleMaps of course, they’d be photoshopped out.

And one of the list’s class clown engineers who hates conspiracy theories added:

I heard that. My niece’s boyfriend’s cousin works for a cleaner who does an IT firm and she said….

The next reply in the thread was from an engineer that I usually see posting rational well thought out replies.

It’s been particularly annoying that you USED to be able to enter a part number of a relatively obscure chip and have the manufacture’s spec sheet show up high in the rankings.  Now, you wind up with a whole bunch of data sheet subscription services that want money before they’ll feed up the datasheet, and a bunch of sales sites,  good portion of which don’t actually HAVE the datasheet or the part you requested anyway.  For instance, try “tmp47p443″…
I don’t think this is google being bought, I think it’s just sites that have learned how to manipulate the search engines.

I just had to try his example so I did then posted this reply.

Great something to try, thank you. I seem to remember the last time I tried this a year or more ago it was frustrating. Google on tmp47p443 and there it is, only data-sheet archives and aggregators. First hit is DigChip.com a member only site but, it does show it to be Toshiba part. Go to Toshiba’s web site and search, not found, that explains why the manufacturers site didn’t come up in the Google search. Second result is clearly an obsolete parts sales site so I skip it. The 3rd result is datasheets.org.uk I try it and success, the tmp47p443 data sheet without any signup.

That was too easy, I do seem to recall that it was harder finding data sheets for obsolete parts. I check the date on the datasheet and see it’s from 2000 so I try an older part. The MC146823 was obsolete more than 10 years ago but, there’s a copy of the data book pages at the first result, datasheet4u.com. I try some more:
28c16 – 3rd result alldatasheet.com
MC146818 – 1st result datasheetcatalog.com
ad7533 – 1st result original manufacturer Analog Devices

Well either my memory of how hard it was to find datasheets for obsolete parts is wrong or, Google and the free datasheet sites have improved things. In any case it’s worth noting that these sites have many old datasheets for free.
datasheets.org.uk
datasheet4u.com
alldatasheet.com
datasheetcatalog.com
datasheetarchive.com

Next the conspiracy theorist engineers started complaining about Google searches linking to journals where the information isn’t available for free. They claimed that the sites must be paying Google to do this as a way to increase their income.

And — as mentioned here before, Google /knows/ that the IEEE pages it indexes are not public. I still find it quite odd to find non-public content indexed and probably never will get used to this.

I’m sure the ones who have access to IEEE or would buy their papers based on a Google search are a dwindling minority of Google users. All others just get annoyed by this. There must be another reason… and as always, money leads the suspicions.

I responded:

The last time this issue came up here I wanted to mention something I remember reading about it from quite a while back. However I couldn’t locate what I had read about Google and standards bodies so, I didn’t mention it. I think it was from around 2001 and in one of the trade rags, EET I think.

Any way, what I remember reading was that Google was trying to get standards bodies to allow them to index there documents for search results while protecting the standards bodies income source. While I can’t find the old article It seems to match up with the information at Google Scholar.

Google Scholar and Google books take the attitude that it is better to let you know that the information is out there even if you can’t access the complete information for free. Personally it doesn’t bother me to see a standards body restricted access document listed first in the results. If I really need to see the information I’ll head to a library or have my employer buy it.

A number of other engineers echoed my reply and feelings about the situation. The conspiracy theorists couldn’t deny that this is what Google is doing so they fell back on a good old standby, I don’t like it this way so it shouldn’t be this way. One example was this guys post:

Whether money changes hands or not, indexing sources where the subscribers are only a tiny minority among the general Google users is more a nuisance than a service. It is not much more than advertising for those paid-for services, without much usefulness otherwise.

I really would like an option to blank those results out. They do me no good. I found Google was better when they weren’t there.

OK that’s his opinion, he’d rather be unaware of the availability of information, seems stupid to me but it’s an opinion and no longer an allegation of wrong doing so I didn’t reply. Soon after, the engineer with the failed example replied to the thread with “We’re still waiting for an example search.” and the only reply from the conspiracy theorists was along the lines of, I can’t provide one now but someday I will. This should have been the end of this silly discussion but no, it sprouts multiple new threads with similar themes and no evidence until finally one conspiracy theorist provides one test case. But wait, the conspiracy is that it gets annoying links up high in rank but where does his example come in the rankings.

Note: The link above was the 1st on page 51 (!!) of the search…

Ah the link that he is using as an example is ranked 511th (#1 on results page 51 at 10 results per page). That is not evidence for the claim by any stretch of the imagination. Very few people would ever see that link except for a conspiracy theorist trying really hard to find some scrap of information to support their pet theory. Frankly if some organization is paying money to reach 511th position they are throwing their money away.

Next another example comes through but it’s a search for words that are only likely to be encountered in articles from science journals. Another rational engineer points this out and the conspiracy theorist replies with, I don’t like it and because I don’t like it their must be a conspiracy. I made no replies in this branch of the thread because even the other CT’s didn’t want to touch this silliness.

One of the other new threads was getting even more ridiculous by boiling all the various claims down to one simple claim, Google is evil and stupid. Again no-one is providing concrete examples so I had to jump in with this reply.

Has anyone got any evidence this time around?

After all we’re talking about a search engine so there must be links that support the claims.

Last time around I asked for evidence and none was forthcoming. If no evidence is presented this time around maybe we should all agree that posting unsupported claims against Google is forbidden.

One of the original conspiracy nuts replied with this:

It is hard to point at something that is *not* found …

Followed by some hand waving and no evidence of any kind. So I replied:

Well then point out the search terms you used and the URL’s of sites that should have come up in the list but didn’t. Claims with no evidence are useless and are not part of good engineering or science.

The sound of crickets followed and to this day no-one on the list lets these silly Google conspiracy threads go forward. Someone will simply reply with “give us the link” and the conspiracy theorist simply waves his hands and slinks away back into his fantasy world where anything he doesn’t like must be a conspiracy.

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