Analysts Weigh In on the Google UAL Gaffe

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-09-11 Print this article Print

Google and the Tribune are finger pointing, with Google saying the Sun-Sentinel should have included a dateline on the Tribune on the story, while the Tribune blamed Google's bot, adding that it asked Google to stop crawling its network of newspaper Web sites months go. Google denies this.

"The claim that the Tribune Company asked Google to stop crawling its newspaper Web sites is untrue," a Google spokesperson told me.

I turned to Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan for clarity. He told me:

Things like this have happened, as I've seen personally, but not in such a big fashion. Better verification of dates, better working between the news search engines and news sites would help, in particular perhaps more dependence on feeds. But also, people doing the basic amount of fact checking of a major story before feeding it into a major wire service would have helped. That's where 90 percent of the blame lies.

IDC's Susan Feldman had her own take on the matter, noting that the lack of a date for the article, which as Sullivan noted would have been added by humans, "tripped the whole train of events that eventually tripped up the automated trading programs." She said:

While wary humans should be able to spot this kind of mistake, computers can't unless they have been programmed to. And, to be honest, apparently a lot of humans weren't wary enough to spot the lack of a date either. So, human negligence kicked up the ranking of the article as the very human rumor mill kicked in. This has been happening ever since people started talking to each other. Think about the Teapot Dome scandal, or the War of the Worlds. The problem with any automated approach to processing information is that computers follow the rules that are set by humans. If the rule to check the date or kick out a document for human scrutiny is not in the rule base, then the computer processes a document as if it is current, and that triggers alerts, and trading problems.

Feldman says the solution is to improve the newspaper site, the crawlers and the automated trading programs, as well as having a better understanding of the unforeseen consequences of getting the wrong information at the wrong time to the wrong people.

So clearly what we need are smarter algorithms and therefore smarter crawlers, not only from Google, but from the automatic trading brokers. We can't continue to have these gaffes because it will seriously disrupt Wall Street, the aorta that pumps the lifeblood through the country.

Look at how UAL is suffering from an article published six years ago. Imagine if something similar happened to Google or Microsoft.

That would be even more embarrassing, but maybe that's what it would take to galvanize the companies into improving their search algorithms.



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