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MSN + Linux = Funny
June 30, 2003 8:39 AM   Subscribe

Searching MSN for the phrase "Linux" yields some pretty amusing (but yes, unsurprising) results. The first site seems moderately legit - Amazon stuff related to linux. The second one - MSN has a tech section about Linux? Not exactly. It doesn't really have much linux content at first glance. The third link is most amusing - see for yourself.

Comparatively, a google search for "linux" yields much more useful results.

This makes me wonder: should ethics be taken into consideration on search engines? MS has every right to have whatever they want come up when you type in "linux" - but they are willfully contaminating search results, which makes one wonder what other search terms Microsoft might want to rig the output of, and also, which they might have overlooked...
posted by twiggy (44 comments total)

 
Oh, who sodding cares?
posted by ed\26h at 8:50 AM on June 30, 2003


search results? microsoft and most other large corporations contaminate reality whenever it damn well suits them.
posted by quonsar at 8:53 AM on June 30, 2003


Wow, the black helicopters must be hovering low today.

Junior, not everything is a conspiracy against you, despite how satisfying that would apparently be. Maybe, just maybe, if you and the other linux Slashbots would spend more time, you know, programming and developing things and less time telling me how oppressed you are, linux may matter someday in arenas that far surpass your basement.
posted by Electric Jesus at 8:56 AM on June 30, 2003


should ethics be taken into consideration on search engines?

Well, first, big surprise. MS is a corporation, use their databases (which they provide for free) and you get what they put in there. More generally, search engines/databases don't do your thinking for you. Data, metadata, and search algorithms are all built by humans, according to their own individual definitions of what 'knowledge' and 'facts' are. When you use them, you have to supply your own judgement and discrimination with respect to what the designers have built in. Search Microsoft for 'Linux' and you'll get what you deserve - just the same as searching Slashdot for 'Microsoft.'

Rather than worrying about the search results returned for 'Linux' on MS's site, I'd be more worried about folks who genuinely thought this was a problem.
posted by carter at 8:58 AM on June 30, 2003


i don't think it has anything to do with conspiracy theories and black helicopters, junior. i think it has to do with deliberate, greed motivated deception on a massive scale (i.e. millions of clueless MSN subscribers). call a spade a spade, junior.
posted by quonsar at 8:59 AM on June 30, 2003


and carter, it may be MSN's database, but it represents itself as a web search.
posted by quonsar at 9:02 AM on June 30, 2003


relevance vs. profit is the entire business where search is concerned. Too many paid links, and users realize your engine is crap. But you'll probably need to add some paid links if you hope to stay afloat as a business. Google has done fabulously well with their AdWords and syndication thereof. But they've also made the strategic decision never to pepper those links into the main results, as happens more or less 100% of the time on any Overture or Inktomi driven search.

I have no idea what MSN does. Probably nothing worthwile, if they've corrupted their main consumer-facing search engine with a bunch of self-serving relevance boosts for their own products.
posted by scarabic at 9:03 AM on June 30, 2003


Anyone else notice that the skewed results on MSN are "featured" sites and if you scroll down past those 15 you get the real results?

BTW Google does it too but only the first 2 and they are clearly marked.
posted by bitdamaged at 9:07 AM on June 30, 2003


Actually its' the first 5 to 10
posted by bitdamaged at 9:08 AM on June 30, 2003


First of all, I'm no linux geek or conspiracy theorist. In fact, I run windows on all but one of my machines...

However, as someone mentioned - it represents itself as a search engine... I was posing a question - an honest question, about whether ethics should or should not matter in something like this.

Maybe they shouldn't. But one wonders, if they can intentionally weight/contaminate "linux" results - would you be upset if they weighted/contaminated "abortion" search results? Where is the line drawn?

Have they done anything like that? I don't know, I never really use their search engine. I just got curious today figuring linux would probably return MSFT preaching stuff, and tried it out, and I was right... They've got every right to do what they're doing, and I said that - the question is, should they be doing it, and how far do you think is okay to go with stuff like this?

So, before you go making assumptions and using belittling terms like "Junior", Electric Jackass, why not take 5 minutes to read what something actually says, instead of what you're wanting to read out of it so you can jump down someone's throat?
posted by twiggy at 9:11 AM on June 30, 2003


And my 1993 Nissan Sentra was legally and technically a "car", but failed to perform many of its functions. Still a car though. MSN is a crappy search engine, but still a search engine.

The less nefarious explanation is that MSN elevates the ranking of any search on its own websites. If consumers don't like that, they shouldn't be using a search engine hosted by a company which also produces its own content.
posted by PrinceValium at 9:25 AM on June 30, 2003


Oh, that's really useful, I'm thinking of switching from my stable, crash-free, secure Apache-MySQL-PHP build to a windows server!

Thanks for the great MSN link. Those bastards. I'm just glad Linux is open source and can't be killed in the same way a company can, like, say, Netscape.
posted by insomnyuk at 9:26 AM on June 30, 2003


The funny thing is that if you search google for the term "search engine" it returns itself fifth in the list, after four of its competitors. MSN search doesn't show up on the first couple of pages, but then again I've never heard of it, so maybe that makes sense.
posted by toothless joe at 9:28 AM on June 30, 2003


On another level, how is this a post to "something on the web"? It's a post to six search results, and an invitation to discuss the same.

OperatingSystemsFilter.
posted by yhbc at 9:31 AM on June 30, 2003


it may be MSN's database, but it represents itself as a web search

quonsar, agreed, that's sneaky (although I suspect pretty common). However, to be picky, *no* search engine actually searches the Web. What they do search are indexes of the Web (or at least those parts of the Web they consider important) that they have developed. In most cases those indexes cover only a small fraction of web sites.

Someone who has done a lot of research on this - that is, Web structure, Web indexing, databases, digital libraries, etc. - is Steve Lawrence (link to page of downloadable research papers).
posted by carter at 9:34 AM on June 30, 2003


So, before you go making assumptions and using belittling terms like "Junior", Electric Jackass, why not take 5 minutes to read what something actually says, instead of what you're wanting to read out of it so you can jump down someone's throat?

Because this is the same race, over and over and over. Allow me to answer this question, once and for all -- no, you can't trust anyone else to offer you strict objectivity, especially when there is any potential for financial gain involved. Hate Microsoft all you like, but any linux company would do this same thing in a heartbeat, assuming that it could avoid tanking for long enough.

There. Now, can we just get over the fact that the internet is corrupt? It's not news, it's not interesting and it's not a surprise. Yet, for some reason, people really like to offer demonstrations. "Look! When I cut myself, I bleed." Duh. This is no different. If you're using the internet as a source for legitimate, unfudged information, you're an idiot.

Go ahead and discuss how things "ought" to be if it helps you sleep, but in this painfully real world, idealism is embarrassingly obsolete.
posted by Electric Jesus at 9:41 AM on June 30, 2003


This is highly relevant. Microsoft fought long and hard and as dirty as they could get away with to essentially control the face of the Internet (the browser) that most people will see. This kind of thing – where they now get the opportunity to mess directly with information people recieve through their faucet – is exactly what everybody was worried about when that was happening. Surprise. They're doing it, and they've publically announced their intent to take down Google. Expect stories about Bill was the was the visionary force behind this Internet thing and the Road Ahead. Oh. Wait.
posted by namespan at 9:46 AM on June 30, 2003


Someone who has done a lot of research on this - that is, Web structure, Web indexing, databases, digital libraries, etc. - is Steve Lawrence...

I think a more relevant link can be found here!
posted by jpburns at 10:06 AM on June 30, 2003


Namespan, buddy, everyone does it. Should we go to Slashdot and search for objective IT articles? Wouldn't that be helpful? How about if we try The Register? Between those two sites, that's probably 55 million pageviews a month and zero objectivity. Should I post these carefully researched stats to Metafilter?

This thread only exists because it's Microsoft on the other side. Why, oh why, does anyone expect objectivity on the internet when no such thing exists in any other medium? "The Chevy Cavalier is a top-notch vehicle," the marketing claims. If you've ever driven one, you know that is a generous assessment, at the very best. Yet, nobody complains. Microsoft does it and suddenly it's "highly relevant"? Not really.

The only database that MAY be construed as objective in any medium is the Yellow Pages, and even that's a stretch. If you are putting your faith in the unbiased nature of any commercial entity with vested interests, you deserve what you get.
posted by Electric Jesus at 10:08 AM on June 30, 2003


Hate Microsoft all you like, but any linux company would do this same thing in a heartbeat, assuming that it could avoid tanking for long enough.

Just because you can't conceive of a business acting like this doesn't mean it can't happen. I think your own lack of principles is showing.
posted by Cerebus at 10:14 AM on June 30, 2003


Should we go to Slashdot and search for objective IT articles? Wouldn't that be helpful? How about if we try The Register? Between those two sites, that's probably 55 million pageviews a month and zero objectivity.

Neither /. nor The Register are search engines, you complete and utter fool.
posted by Cerebus at 10:16 AM on June 30, 2003


Dear Cerebus,

Just because you can't conceive of a business acting like this doesn't mean it can't happen. I think your own lack of principles is showing.

I'm sure it can happen, but I'll never know about it because those "principled" businesses disappear like farts in the wind. Competing, in this age, means playing dirty. Calling MY principles into question, while pathetic, is also totally irrelevant, as I don't own a business.

Neither /. nor The Register are search engines, you complete and utter fool.

I don't care for two reasons --

1) They are still loosely considered "information" sites instead of the fan clubs that they actually are. Thus, some percentage of the X pageviews they receive is people who take what is offered as news. Which it ain't.
2) If there was such a thing as a linux search engine (slogan: out of beta by 2012 - guaranteed), it would do the same thing as MSN. Based upon the tactics shown by linux zealots, there is NO reason to assume that they're less willing to lie outright to advance themselves.
posted by Electric Jesus at 10:31 AM on June 30, 2003


Microsoft is trying to fuck up it's search engine's reputation.

It's their right.

I'm not going to stop them.
posted by Blue Stone at 11:02 AM on June 30, 2003


Anyone else notice that the skewed results on MSN are "featured" sites and if you scroll down past those 15 you get the real results?

Thanks, bitdamaged. The only ethical problem here is Microsoft's failure to highlight their Featured and Sponsored links a little more distinctively, a practice which is by no means limited to Microsoft. Microsoft can certainly pick and choose who advertises with them, and it only makes sense that they'd prefer organizations with similar stances.

Given the direction of this thread, though, their strategy of making Featured results seem like normal results seems to be working perfectly.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 11:09 AM on June 30, 2003


OK, first off, google doesn't contaminate search results. Search for search engines. Google doesn't even come first on it's own search engine. You can buy advertisements but they are clearly marked. You can't buy the first, second or even 10000th search position.

Where this really becomes important is in Microsoft's latest target for domination: Search engines. So the question becomes would Microsoft be able to resist stacking the deck in it's favour? Would they resist making the first few links for any search in a market where they compete link to their products? Based on MSN and any past Microsoft endeavours I think the answer is no.

From a consumer standpoint this has the potential for a great deal of harm if Microsoft is smart enough to figure out how to kill google. Google exists on advertising revenue. They sell text-ads in weblogs, on their search engine and so on. If Microsoft can both undercut their price and deliver more return on an advertisers investment they can cut out Google's revenue stream. Of course, once google is out of the picture they then change the costs for ads and the amount you earn per click-through, again based on Microsoft's past actions.
posted by substrate at 11:11 AM on June 30, 2003


Competing, in this age, means playing dirty.

This is a wonderfully self-fulfilling prophecy and I despise it every time I hear it (all the more so when I hear it from people who espouse morality in other spheres of human activity, but I digress). It's functionally equivalent to a two-year-old squawking "Look at what you made me do!"

If you accept this, then you are simply part of the problem.

I don't accept this pretext. Thus, any further discussion is moot.

1) They are still loosely considered "information" sites instead of the fan clubs that they actually are. Thus, some percentage of the X pageviews they receive is people who take what is offered as news. Which it ain't.

Which isn't what we're talking about. You seem to want to derail this thread into a discussion about bias in IT reporting in the Linux community, which it isn't. This thread is about a player in the IT industry contaminating search results by artificially promoting it's own content in those results.

Let's spell it out for you:

News sites are not search sites.

Got that?
posted by Cerebus at 11:11 AM on June 30, 2003


Got that?

Get this; what I want to do here is remove any doubt that this is some kind of new terror and that it only warrants even this much discussion because it's big, bad Microsoft at the wheel. Someone above said, "Google doesn't contaminate results." Says who? Google? Oh, well, since Google says so, I guess the tinfoil hat rumors that arise now and then about Google doing exactly that (for any number of stupid reasons) are instantly false. They probably ARE false, but how do you know for sure? If the only evidence of Google's happily philanthropic motives is that it's not the first result on its own search, consider that it only takes an IQ of about 90 to understand the concept of being too obvious.

This thread is about a player in the IT industry contaminating search results by artificially promoting it's own content in those results.

And what a shock that would be, what with the strictly reputable history of IT players.

I stick by my guns; if this was anyone but Microsoft, this thread wouldn't exist because it's NOT news. Neither you nor I have ANY idea what Google (or alltheweb or yahoo) is doing with the results behind the scenes.
posted by Electric Jesus at 11:31 AM on June 30, 2003


Microsoft is really just embracing and extending a tactic they learned from Steve Jobs.

Today, they are in the position of holding an effective browser monopoly with about 90% of the market.

This means that most people have to run a registry hack to choose an alternate to Microsoft's own search product.

One can only assume that their recent moves to discontinue IE as a separate product from MSN imply tighter integration in the future.

My guess is that someone realized that they can use this, combined with special, high preference search results to create their own reality distortion field.
posted by Mr Stickfigure at 11:33 AM on June 30, 2003


Electric Jesus, put up or shut up. Show me google contaminating results. This isn't about what is happening behind the scenes, this is about search results. Show me google.com contaminating it's results. Google so far has lived by the motto don't be evil. For a search engine this would mean a few things:
  1. Don't take bribes for ranking
  2. Don't alter the ranking of products you sell
  3. Examine your own results and try to make them better
So far I have not seen evidence of google.com violating any of these bullets. If you search for search engine on google the highest rank is a competitor, altavista.com. I highly doubt that they took money to place a competitor ahead of themselves. In fact they don't even appear until the fifth position.

Contrast this to MSN on a search for linux, through some magical ranking system a link to their own website appears before any actual substantial linux website. The actual page doesn't even contain a real reference to linux.

Search for search engine on MSN. The first non-paid link is to MSN. Google, Altavista or any of the other popular engines don't even appear.

Maybe google does tamper with the results, but if so it sure is subtle.
posted by substrate at 12:01 PM on June 30, 2003


substrate you need to look at your own damn links.

The first 5 results on the search for Linux are "FEATURED SITES", the next 3 to 4 (the bullet point ones) are "SPONSORED SITES" then you hit the Web Directory sites which has the real search results.

Google does the same thing albeit more clearly. The first thing listed will be 1 or 2 sponsored links.

This isn't skewed results it's bad design. The results are unclear that they are sponsored but they are clearly (though subtly) marked.
posted by bitdamaged at 12:10 PM on June 30, 2003


well. bad design, maybe -- but how come, in those first few non-sponsored, non featured links, google doesn't appear ONCE? Am I mistaken or is google not the most popular search engine there is?

Then again I don't know anything about MSN's indexing process. So. Conspiracy theory or crappy search engine? You decide.
posted by sodalinda at 12:35 PM on June 30, 2003


OK, I will accept that. The MSN starts off with featured sites, then lists sponsored sites and finally directory sites. So the first 6 entries, or in my case, the entire page without scrolling, are paid for links. Even on the next page it starts off with sponsored links. It's really bad design, I am sure that the appearance is as intended, if you just look at the links rather than little blurbs between links (not even in bold) it appears that they are just normal links.

Google goes out of their way to make sure that you know that they're advertisements. Rather than including them inline with the search results they're off to the side. Very clear.
posted by substrate at 12:43 PM on June 30, 2003


Get this; what I want to do here is remove any doubt that this is some kind of new terror and that it only warrants even this much discussion because it's big, bad Microsoft at the wheel.

Umm... Microsoft *is* different in several significant ways, like (as namespan pointed out) controling the face of the internet that 90%+ users see, or having $50 Billion in the bank to draw on while they undercut other services (as substrate pointed out).

Google aren't perfect angels, but the thing with them is: they have no other way to compete other than quality of service. The invisible hand will smack them hard if they stop being so damn good at providing relevant searches. Microsoft, on the other hand, can take a huge number of smacks from said hand before even feeling it. Not to mention the fact the huge advantage controlling the interface gives them. What if they decide that since "google" really just means "to search" that IE can feel free to redirect all requests to the search engine of MS's choice? Sure, it's not subtle, but in substance, that trick is no different from messing with the results of a Linux (or any other) search....
posted by weston at 12:47 PM on June 30, 2003


I drilled down into the first 145 links returned for the "search engine" query at MSN, and Google appears only in links advertising services aimed at increasing search engine returns for commercial sites (i.e., paid spikers).
posted by Cerebus at 12:50 PM on June 30, 2003


Electric Jesus is a dick.
posted by plexi at 12:52 PM on June 30, 2003


Semantics all of it.
Let's think about this for a while: What EXACTLY is the difference between a "Featured Link" and a "Sponsored Link"? Easy. A "Featured Link" is clearly the work of someone at MSN physically choosing links with their best interests in mind. A "Sponsored Link" is for sale, with virtually no editorializing done (other than accept or reject a proposed sponsor to begin with). Given this, the real surprise should come not from how nefarious it is that MSN lists itself third, but from the fact that it doesn't also fill its own top two spots. You wouldn't go to Ford.com, search for "affordable, sporty-looking, underpowered lemon" and expect to find the Cavalier there... And the solution is simple enough. Do what everyone else does and don't use MSN. (I think we ALL agree on that...) :)
And, sorry to preach, but just because someone has different views, doesn't make him a dick... [bah]
posted by hoborg at 1:01 PM on June 30, 2003


You don't like it? Don't use it.
posted by Samizdata at 1:04 PM on June 30, 2003


technically they are not the first real results, since they are paid for. but i'd say functionally they are. clearly many people even here missed the tiny-print. do you no think an average msn subscriber might?

as for the linux is only useful in geek basements "argument" well, clearly that's not true. many large companies use linux, do a search for it. i suggest google, ha.

also, for the people that apparently don't think this is a valid thread topic, that is what metatalk is for. if you are not sure enough that it is a bad thread to bring it up in metatalk then don't waste time making throwaway comments in-thread. what's the point?
posted by rhyax at 1:14 PM on June 30, 2003


You don't like it? Don't use it.

Have you tried not using IE lately? Non-trivial for a large portion of the PC-using population, and something of a hassle when you do because of the way MS makes their product. Have you tried removing IE? Harder. Have you tried living in the business world w/o using MS Office? Yep. Hard.

It's not impossible. It's just a hassle -- not because the alternatives are a hassle, but because MS makes it so. And how were they able to do this? By leveraging their control over the bottom, the software on which the higher software sits.

Not like that has any relevancy to services accessed via a web browser....
posted by namespan at 1:47 PM on June 30, 2003


How is it difficult to not use IE, and how is it a hassle if you don't?
posted by JasonSch at 4:06 PM on June 30, 2003


It's difficult to not use IE because many sites are designed for IE and give you problems if you try to visit using another browser.
posted by dagnyscott at 7:33 PM on July 1, 2003


You wouldn't go to Ford.com, search for "affordable, sporty-looking, underpowered lemon" and expect to find the Cavalier there

If I'm reading your comment right, you are asserting that a Cavalier is a Ford and that is why it wouldn't be there.

A Cavalier is a Chevy.

[/derail]
posted by zaack at 9:27 PM on July 1, 2003


Dear god.

I typed 'linux' in the address bar in MSIE (a browser I rarely use) and lo and behold, I get an MSN search, only it's the local New Zealand one (xtramsn.com - Microsoft teams up with the monopoly-telecom-owned ISP)

The first result is not Microsoft anything, bizarrely it's a very neglected site I wrote, and sort of maintain.

I guess I have nothing to complain about until the local MSN site starts 'featuring' it's sites too.

This si the MSN definition of a Featured Site:
Featured Sites are links that MSN Search editors believe are likely to be particularly relevant and useful. These sites are chosen from ones published by MSN affiliates, partners, sponsors, and advertisers, as well as other sites proven to be especially popular among our users.

While none of the Linux matches seem to fit that criteria, it is because they are not actually really relevant or useful, it's because...
Featured Sites that best match your search words are drawn from:
- The top sites for news in entertainment, sports, business, and politics.
- The most popular musical artist sites for biographies and song samples.
- MSN Encarta for encyclopedia information.
- MSN content.
- MSN content partners.
- MSN advertising partners. (Microsoft accepts payment for listings from these.)


So basically "Featured sites are the most helpful information available... That is published by us, our friends or our advertisers"

I wouldn't trust MSN to do a search for me, but it does bother me a little that they stack their 'results' like this when their search facilities are embedded in 90% of the world's web browsers.
posted by sycophant at 4:02 AM on July 2, 2003


Zaack,
Thanks for not being rude about that. Actually, while you didn't interpret my post correctly, it's more my fault. My point was that the chances of finding any reference to a Chevy car on Ford's site is even slimmer than finding the Focus when you search for "cheap" and "sporty-looking". Much like the chances of finding linux on Microsoft's site when you search for "operating system". Hope that clears it up.
posted by hoborg at 10:48 AM on July 2, 2003


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