The beta version of MSN's search tool has sparked controversy less than a week after its launch when sharp-eyed users noticed that a search for 'more evil than Satan' brings back Google's homepage as the top match.
Duncan Parry, creative director at positiondriver.co.uk, a firm which specialises in helping business customers optimise their search engine rankings, told vnunet.com that he suspected foul play.
"Either this is the result of mischief, where someone at MSN has tweaked an algorithm to make this specific search string come up with the top ranking, [or] it is fluke and there is a content match," he said.
"But this is extremely unlikely as there is not enough content on Google's homepage to come up with this result. The most likely explanation is that it is one techie having a go at another."
However, Microsoft UK search business manager David Graham hit back at the allegations, insisting that the most likely explanation is that the words 'more than' in the string matches with Google's homepage statement that its "index nearly doubles to more than 8 billion pages".
"It is more to do with the way that the algorithm looks at link analysis, and the Google site has lots and lots of other sties linking to it," he said.
However, this assertion appears not to stand up to even a cursory test. Searching for 'more than', either inside quotes or without quotes, does not bring up Google anywhere in the top results.
As a matter of historical interest, the boot was on the other foot five years ago. In November 1999 Google users typing in the search string 'more evil than Satan himself' were given Microsoft as the top result.
A screenshot of the offending search result can be seen here.
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