A few weeks ago AltaVista proudly announced a new search service. Very shortly thereafter, apparently as a result of complaints, and perhaps the sound of virtual laughing in their faces, the sceme was removed without a trace. Only those who were there to see it for the short time between when it materialized and until it blissfully disappeared into the vapors of the cyberspace dung heap know it was there. Not a trace was left, so pinch me, maybe I'm dreaming.
What was this wonderful idea? I don't even remember what they called it, but why it would be considered a service is totally beyond me. The basic idea was that web presences could pay to have their sites show up first among the list of results of searches related to their content. In other words, if I'm searching for material related to the theory of relativity and I type the words relativity and gravitation in the the AltaVista search box, if there's a company out there that produces relativity pills, or perhaps builds anti-gravitation devices, for a price (paid to AltaVista, not to me) that company's web site will show up before a list of explanations of Einstein's theory.
Don't worry, the folks at AltaVista assured us, we won't let unrelated advertisements sneak in. Which probably meant that they intended to screen out sites that promised us pictures of sex in space.
This scheme was, of course, nothing new. The advertisements at search sites are organized in such a way that if you type a name of a country into the search box, the next advertisement you'll see is for a travel company, or if you type in "landscape architecture" you'll probably get an ad for a gardening magazine. With time, experience, and a good dose of common sense, people learn to disregard these distractions and to focus on the search results. Which was apparently the impetus for this new and short lived scheme. Someone must have said "hey, nobody is paying attention to our advertisements anymore. Why not sneak them into the list of results!". That in itself is nothing to get overly excited about, but when they tell you that this is actually a service to give you better and more fitting results, it's time to start being suspicious.
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