In a word, Google tries to protect itself

April 29, 2003|By Marja Mills | Marja Mills,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Many do it, but few 'fess up: vanity googling.

Vanity googlers - you know who you are - plug their own name into the immensely popular Google search engine to see what pops up. The serial egosurfing reveals what others see when they google you, assuming you rate being googled.

Heaven forbid you find a former beau has engaged in revenge googling - online dissing after a relationship gone bad. You could try to ungoogle your name, but that's not always easy.

With love and money at stake, Google's immense popularity has spawned creative ways of using and misusing the search engine.

Google bombing and googlewhacking are part of the budding lexicon otherwise known, naturally, as googlespeak - but not by Google Inc.

The company wants to protect its big-G, trademarked name rather than see it used as a little-g, generic term.

In late February, for example, a Google lawyer e-mailed Paul McFedries, who chronicles new words on his Word Spy Web site. McFedries, working from his home computer in Toronto, is tracking googlespeak.

The attorney asked him to include the trademark with his definition of the verb "to google" or take the word off his site. A mini-brouhaha ensued, with some lexicographers outraged at the request. (The term "google" has so saturated the culture, McFedries said, that one man posted his daughter's remark saying she was "googling" a lost sock).

However, McFedries decided to comply, and the Web Spy definition of "google" includes: "Note that Google is a trademark identifying the search technology and services of Google Technologies Inc."

"I don't blame them for trying to do what they did," McFedries said. "But it is interesting they're trying to shut the language door after the Google horse already has bolted."

As for the practices the terms refer to - googlewhacking, for example, a quirky online word game using the search engine - that's fine, according to a spokesman at the Googleplex headquarters (really, that's what they call it).

Even people who "google bomb" don't "negatively affect the quality of the more than 200 million search queries Google serves every day," the spokesman said.

Google bombers seek to push a Web site high in a list of Google search results. The search engine is designed to find the most pertinent results to a query and list them in that order. The number of links to a given Web site is a factor, so google bombers - and their friends - create lots of Web pages with links to a particular site so it will rise to the top of search results. The goal? Google juice, the online visibility and momentum that comes with a greater presence on Google.

Overseas googlers are putting their own spin on googlespeak.

In Spanish, for example, "googleando" (goo-glay-ahn-doh), for "googling" is just as much goofy fun to say.

And the noun on a Swedish blog: "Google-dansen." Google dances.

For more details on the playful, unofficial term related to updates of the search engine's index, you know what to do. Google it.

Marja Mills is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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