One of the fiercest battles this election year has nothing to do with the war in Iraq or the budget deficit or, to be honest, anything of importance at all. It concerns waffles. Go to almost any Internet search engine, type in the word "waffles," and see for yourself.
The unlikely top result is the product of a "Google bomb," or a concerted attempt to make a particular Web page (such as johnkerry.com) the top search result for a certain search word (such as "waffles"). Sound difficult? It's actually not, if you have some help and some time.
The method that Google, and most other search engines, use to rank search results relies heavily on how many Web sites link a searched-for word to a particular Web site. So in the case of "waffles" ("waffling," in case you were wondering, is a political term for repeatedly changing positions on an issue), a number of conservative bloggers conspired to all link that word on their individual Web sites to johnkerry.com and -- voila -- when anyone now searches for "waffles," Google thinks johnkerry.com is the most relevant result.
Google bombs have a short, but glorious, tradition. The term was coined by a blogger in 2001 who linked the phrase "talentless hack" to the Web site of his friend, and most other well-known Google bombs are similarly high-minded. In 1999 a search for the phrase "more evil than Satan himself" brought up the Microsoft homepage, and last year a search for "French military victories" brought up a joke Google Web page which stated that no documents were found and suggested an alternative search: "Did you mean: French military defeats?" (Try it, it still works.)
Political activists were quick to catch on. Democrats struck first in 2000, when the phrase "dumb mother------" led searchers to the George W. Bush campaign store. They struck again during the Iraq war by linking the phrase "weapons of mass destruction" to a joke Google Web page that started, "These Weapons of Mass Destruction cannot be displayed." Most recently, Democratic bombers tied the phrase "miserable failure" to the biography of President Bush.
Republicans have fought back valiantly. After learning of the Democratic attack with "miserable failure," Republicans attempted to overtake the top spot with Web sites for former president Jimmy Carter, Senator Hillary Clinton and filmmaker Michael Moore (the Carter and Moore sites are currently just under Bush in a Google search). Want something more positive? Search for "great president" and guess who turns up at number one.
Google has repeatedly stated it will not get involved to "fix" the bombs, so what can a candidate do if he or she is a victim? Mostly laugh, although Kerry's campaign tried to capitalize on the prank by, for a limited time, purchasing advertisements that came up beside the results when the word "waffles" was searched and offered the chance to "read about President Bush's waffles."