Google Crawler hitch brings down UAL

This would rate pretty high in Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Google posted a 2002 news story on its front page about UAL going bankrupt, which brought down UAL share prices rock bottom. [link]

Shares of UAL lost 75% of its value in seconds, plummeting as low as $3 from $12.30 prior to the story appearing on Google. Some investors in UAL stock lost a ton of money. The stock hit an all time low on heavy volume.

The shares bounced back after the market realized it was a 6-year old story on the company’s 2002 bankruptcy filing that appeared on Google. Investors who sold on the news were stuck.

Google declined comment on the incident. Later, it blamed the Sentinel for posting the 2002 Chicago Tribune article on their website. The Nasdaq Stock Market, where UAL shares are listed, said trades triggered by the erroneous report wouldn’t be rescinded. The Google story then was picked up by Income Securities Advisors, a Florida investment newsletter, and disseminated over Bloomberg News triggering a wave of panic selling. It appeared as ”United Airlines files for Ch. 11 to cut costs.”

Amazin’ ain’t it? No wonder Google is facing antitrust investigations due to the immense power it yields.

Second Highest Bid auctions

Found this interesting post on Sriram Krishnan’s blog where he describes the origin of the Vickrey auction that is used by Google and Yahoo! for the online advertising. Very interestingly, although it has some side-benefits of removing winner’s curse and bid shading (see links on Sriram’s blog), the real reason why this process was adopted [instead of the traditional English auction] is that the Google systems people wanted to reduce the loads on the server that would have resulted from people changing their bids rapidly:

There have been several articles documenting the work of Google’s Salar Kamangar and Eric Veach in bringing this to AdWords. What is lesser known (atleast to me )is that they implemented this model to solve another problem entirely. I came across this old talk from a Google employee – in the speaker notes, it talks about how Kamangar and Veach implemented this feature to stop advertisers from logging into the system and modifying their bids constantly (since that’s what people tend to do in an open English auction). By implementing a second price auction, they were hoping to reduce the load on the system.

Google, SEO, Knol and the rest of the world

Google recently launched Knol, their wikipedia competitor which allows experts to own articles. The concept is interesting because Wikipedia allows free-for-all authorship, and by making the articles edited by experts and listing their owners clearly on the knol, Google hopes it will get higher quality content. The editors will stake their prestige on the quality of the content, and overtime Google could also share Adsense revenue with them.

However, a has also raised quite a storm in the teacup since people are speculating that Google will take undue advantage of its search traffic to drive usage of knol. Google has pretty much become the traffic policeman of the new web — telling people where to go, and getting them there through its vast knowledge of the contours of the internetland. However, as is often the case in India, what do you do when lawmakers become lawbreakers? When a cop’s car breaks traffic rules, do you give them a ticket? While I am hopeful Google will not quite reach the level of Indian police (or even Bennet, Coleman & Co.), but the question of Knol getting undue advantage (as against the much better established Wikipedia) can not be brushed aside.

The importance of Google’s dominance of the web came to the fore front yesterday during a discussion at the Open Coffee Club’s first meeting in Kolkata yesterday. Angshuman of Taragana complained that he had a hard time when Google dropped him out of their indexes for some reason he is yet to figure out. While he has several conjectures such as his wordpress translation plugin due to Google might have labelled all his pages as duplicate/spam, or changing his URL syntax using mod_rewrite, he couldn’t really figure out what the problem was. Using the webmaster tools wasn’t much help either. Finally, the way he resolved it was by telling the Google representative that he would stop his Adsense spending if his website wasn’t restored — he claims that is the only thing that works with Google. Being dumped by Google indices is quite scary for any website owner, almost like not being reachable from the Start button on a windows box, and there needs to be better mechanism to deal with such ‘mistakes’.

Microsoft has often been accused of using its Windows strength to push its other services, and now Google could do the same. While Google has been the poster child of the internet, and we all continue to use its services in good faith, ignoring trespasses into content creation space, brushing aside its transgressions as mere mistakes — one can hear whispers today and one expects them to soon transform into noises. The onus is on Google to uphold its “don’t be evil” philosophy, and communicate its positive action proactively to the rest of the world. It has already done well for the last few years, but the time has come to be more open, more forthcoming, and more accommodating, or might find itself in the same boat as what Microsoft, AT&T and other monopolies have been in the past.

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