September 10 2008
One of the big news stories in the tech world this week is how United Airlines stock plunged in value after an old (2002) Florida News-Sentinel story resurfaced and was mistakenly believed to be fresh news. The Times, among many others, covers it:
Both human error and far-from-foolproof technology seem to have played a role in the episode, which involved a 2002 Chicago Tribune report; the web site of the Sun Sentinel, a Florida newspaper owned by the same company; the Bloomberg News financial wire service; and Google, all apparently unwittingly.The Tribune acknowledges that the article, plucked from its archives, had no publication date. Google acknowledges that, as a result, it assigned the date that the page was crawled, thus, making it appear "new".
But what doesn't seem to be coming out in the NYT coverage, or anywhere else, is that what then happened is the Google alerts kicked in. I have seen this of late as well -- I've been getting Google alerts for articles about Lotus Notes that are 5+ years old...in some cases going all the way back to 1998. The Tribune article suffers from this problem, and they say (as the Times quotes):
The December 10, 2002, story contains information that would clearly lead a reader to the conclusion that it was related to events in 2002. In addition, the comments posted along with the story are dated 2002. It appears that no one who passed this story along actually bothered to read the story itself.Yep, when I started seeing articles referencing Notes 6 in my Google alerts, it was pretty clear to me that they were old. The reader should have been able to determine that in the Tribune article. But why is it OK that Google is date-stamping these as "new" web pages, when clearly they are not?
Link: New York Times: A Stock-Killer Fueled by Algorithm After Algorithm >