When Doc Searls was first telling me about blogging, he asked if I wanted to see something incredible. Then he typed the word “doc” into a certain search engine, and the first or second result was the address of his blog.
I was amazed. He was right up there. On a level with the Department of Communications. He still is today (try it!)
So a while ago, I decided to check out the results for “Kim”. Narcissistic? I guess. And worse, the kind of thing that irreversibly links your identity to the audit trail of your searches.
But I was curious.
Let's face it. As I've said before, this blog is the “hair on the end of the long tail.” It was obvious I wouldn't be in the same league as Doc. And we all know the entire country of Korea has the name ‘Kim’. One search engine lists 227 million references. So my hopes weren't high.
But despite all this, the results were pretty amazing:
Was it possible? I beat out Kim Jong-il, president of North Korea, who came in at number 8. In fact I easily passed him at 5! I could see he's maybe not the most popular person in the world, but still, he does run a country, a country much discussed in some circles. Anyway, I decided to check out a competing engine:
Not quite as good, maybe, but hey, Rudyard Kipling and Kim Basinger are certainly both more fundamentally accessible than identityblog (!), so it seems right.
Anyway, over time I came to take this state of affairs pretty much for granted.
But last week, visiting Canada, a friend asked me what would happen if he just searched for ‘Kim’, so I told him to try it. He went to www.google.ca, and to my horror I could see that I had slipped:
Suddenly the reality of the situation sank in. Was the underground nuclear test that Kim Jong-il set off just grandstanding intended to increase his search engine ranking?
Had Kim Basinger and I actually been in grave danger all along for thwarting a dictator's desire to appear at the top of a result set?
The poor helpless souls in some CNN documentary flashed before my eyes, and I acepted that losing out to Jong-il wasn't all bad.
And then the kicker. I VPNed to a computer back in the States, so I could get to the US versions of the search engines (on my friend's ISP it was impossible to get to the actual “.com” site rather than “.ca”).
Guess what? Back in the States it was business as usual. Kim Basinger and I were still up ahead of Jong-il, despite all of his antics. My friend and I had been looking at a rating that was somehow Canada specific.
I guess that for search engine experts all of this would come as no surprise. But I am pretty curious about how these international variations in ranking come about.