[FoRK] What Would Google Do (for me)? - Wal-Mart videos

mattj at newsblip.com mattj
Fri Jan 6 15:59:30 PST 2006

I forgot a cardinal rule of digital life.  When you need answers, 
always ask yourself first: How could Google answer this for me?

Yesterday a story broke about walmart.com's video section linking 
"Planet of the Apes" (PotA) to a set of biographies about African 
Americans.  No other related links, just those biographies.  Suspicious?

So I started exploring, to see whether it was a fluke.  I followed the 
related links. I looked at other PotA videos.  Was this data new?  I 
spent a long time at archive.org trying to get old walmart.com pages to 
load.  Simultaneously, Wal-Mart was dismantling the related links 
system; all links were disappearing.

Not including a dinner break, I wasted four hours in this before 
finally asking "What Would Google Do for me?"  Clearly, the four black 
bios were a well-defined category. How many other videos were linked 
just to that category, like PotA was?

The proper Google query was to include the black bio titles, and 
site:walmart.com.  One of the bios was too recent, but after dropping 
it, I got 100+ random titles that all had those black bios as their 
"related links".  It was a bug, not a racist prank.  I noticed they all 
seemed to be box sets. That seemed to be the only connection.  With 
different queries, on MSN I was able to show that the problem has 
existed at least since last summer, and at least up until last week 
(the freshest cached pages).

Now I see that about an hour ago, Wal-Mart announced the technical 
results: there was a problem in categorizing many unrelated box sets 
and twin packs with a tag created last January for a Martin Luther King 
special collection.

Anyway, I had to post my frustration with myself for not thinking of 
the better search idea right away.

-Matt Jensen

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