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November 15, 2004

MSN Search Keeps It Real

As of right now, querying MSN Search for "anal sex" still returned Microsoft's homepage as the top result (and Rick Santorum has moved up to #7).

This is actually a good sign. It shows that MSN Search is actually trying to do an honest job of trusting their engine and not gimmicking the results. What would it have said about their credibility if they simply hacked it up to change the search results? Would they have done the same if it pointed to one of their competitors?

If you read Robin Good's write-up of the recent Search Champs event, some of the suggestions they gave are based on the premise (oft-heard on Slashdot) that Microsoft was planning to play with the search results: "Do not try to push other Microsoft content as default authority by default." "Respect user privacy like the most scared thing you have." "Get out of PassPort-like schemes, if ever needed." "Transparency about results and methods utilized to achieve them is important." I personally was pretty sure that Microsoft was going to be honest with its search results, but I think the continued anal sex link to Microsoft is actually a very hopeful sign to those who were concerned about it. So kudos to them.

I assume the reason that Microsoft's homepage comes up first is because there really are a bunch of sites that link to Microsoft using "anal sex" as the link text. I don't think it would be that hard for Microsoft to fix this in an honest way. The 'Settings' page for Search has a notion of SafeSearch, which classifies pages into sexually explicit and not, and by the by disallows the "anal sex" search entirely if you ratchet it down (Google calls its porn filter the exact same thing -- SafeSearch -- right down to the intercapping). So some basic algorithm like "if the page linked from is nasty and the page linked to is not nasty, lower the weight of the link" should fix this up. Obviously Google has done something of that sort, since they are indexing the same Internet and manage to keep Microsoft off the top ten of anal sex results.

Microsoft does have one problem that Google doesn't quite have, which is that lots of pages link to it for reasons other than its search business. For example pages may say "Anal sex over here! Best viewed with Microsoft Internet Explorer." Sort of a good news, bad news deal. It's nice people are optimizing their sites for IE, but it might mess up your search engine.

(Of course Google (and Yahoo) have a problem Microsoft may not, which is that lots of X-rated sites link to them as the "If you are underage, click here to exit" link. Disney is also a big player in this niche; a Google search for "exit" returns Yahoo, Google, and Disney in that order, while a search for "leave" swaps Disney and Google.)

Interestingly enough, I tried a "Near Me" MSN Search for "anal sex" and Microsoft was nowhere to be found, even though I live a mere five miles from headquarters! Still a few bugs in the system I guess...

Posted by AdamBa at November 15, 2004 09:43 PM

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