January 29, 2002 3:40 PM PST

Have you Googlewhacked?

What do you get when you cross a colonoscopy with a cockatiel? The same thing you get when you cross a cartographer with a hair ball--a Googlewhack.

Named after the popular Google search engine, Googlewhacks, and the game of finding them (or Googlewhacking), are the latest pursuit of legions of bored and increasingly obsessed Web surfers searching for the next big thing.

The game starts by typing two words into Google's search bar, with the goal of obtaining a single result. The ultimate goal of a Googlewhacker: seeing the words "Results 1-1 of 1" appear in the upper right-hand corner of the screen.

The challenge comes from the size of Google's legendary database, which had recently indexed some three billion Web pages and is updated constantly.

The term, if not the game, is the brainchild of Gary Stock, who tracks the trend on his Web site. Though he's long been a researcher of odd surfing habits--and spends plenty of time Googlewhacking himself--Stock declines to take credit for the phenomenon.

"All I did was come up with the term Googlewhack," he said modestly. "People have been searching on odd combinations for years."

Indeed, the trend is part of the natural progression of Web searching practices, which have evolved from ego-surfing--that is, looking up your name in a search engine--to investigating friends, relatives and even potential dates. The next step, of course, is Googlewhacking.

"You've already found yourself. You've already found the people you know," Stock said. "There's really nothing left to search but concepts. You've evolved to a higher state."

The thing about Googlewhacking is it keeps you on your toes. No sooner have you found a Googlewhack than it ceases to be one.

"It's ephemeral," Stock said. "The day I created the word 'Googlewhack' it was a Googlewhack. Not anymore."

For one thing, people add and update Web pages constantly, so the number of search results grows from one day to the next.

What's more, people who submit their Googlewhacks to Web sites devoted to the practice are in essence creating one more entry on the Google search page. Thus, a Google search on an unusual word combination, which once turned up just one result, might now yield the original entry plus an entry for the page proclaiming the Googlewhack.

At times, Stock said, Googlewhackers have become "unpleasantly competitive," trying to assign a complex point system to their finds using an algorithm that values certain words in a Googlewhack over others. But in Stock's eyes, all Googlewhacks are equal. A searcher can earn up to three points--one for discovering an original Googlewhack, one for learning something, and one for getting a chuckle while doing so.

Although it may seem a waste of time, Stock said he's hoping Googlewhacking encourages people to roam the Web, just like they did in the old days.

"It used to be people wandered around the Web, but today people find themselves a space and stay there too much," he said. "To me, this is a good way to get people to learn."

But like many Web-related trends, Googlewhacking also has attracted a cadre of get-rich-quick schemers. Stock said he's gotten offers to help him market a Googlewhacking game and create a business out of the concept. One fan has even developed an automated software tool designed to find all Googlewhacks.

Google itself is taking a more understated approach. The search service has simply offered to send Stock a T-shirt.

"It's hilarious," Google spokesman David Krane said.

 

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