Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Perils of Automatic Web Harvesting

By now you've probably noticed that when you type a search request into Google, you are often directed to spontaneously-generated pages that pull together bits of information about that search term. These automatic web harvesters are not usually meant to fulfill your search request...they are only there to lure you in so you can see the attached advertisements.

I don't usually notice these sites and I've gotten pretty good at NOT clicking on them, but this morning I did a search for "Creepy Pedro" and got sent to this page. It's run by "Pipl," the most "comprehensive people search on the web," and automatically populates its database from stuff it harvests off the web; newspaper articles, trade papers...and those "Creepy Pedro" radio plays I wrote so many years ago.

The subject of the page is "Bernard Hiller," a real-life acting teacher. Three of the "Pipl" links point to legitimate sources of information, but the fourth points to the "Camp Creepy for Kids" play, wherein a (fictionalized) James Bernard insults a (totally fictional) person named "Hiller Black."

Since "Pipl" obviously has a problem with punctuation, it includes a quote from the play as one of the "quick facts" about the totally real Bernard Hiller: "Hiller was always a bit of a copycat, wasn't he..."

I assume that people don't go to "Pipl" for their research reports or resume checkups, but even so it thrills me to know that some guy out there is being slandered in a supposedly authoritative database, entirely because of a Creepy Pedro radio play that has nothing to do with him. Ahh, serendipity. Pedro would be proud.

(PS: Some new Creepy Pedro movie reviews are in the latest issue of your copy today!)

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