In the “you learn something every day” and “stuff to remember for teaching Writing for the World Wide Web” departments:
There was a discussion on one of the mailing lists I’m on about this phenomenon called “Googlebombing.” If you go to Google, type in “miserable failure,” and then hit the “I’m feeling lucky” button, you’ll get this page, the official biography of George W. Bush. Go ahead and try it. I’ll wait.
How does this happen? Well, this article from the International Herald Tribune explains how if enough people link to something on the web with a particular phrase, it rises to the top of the Google search engine. So, as the result of the grass roots efforts of a blogger named George Johnston who has a blog called Old Fashioned Patriot, enough people linked to Bush’s biography with the phrase “miserable failure” on their page and Google reacts.
There are some obvious political implications to all this (and I happen to agree with the linkage between “miserable failure” and GW Bush), but I am more fascinated by the complex rhetorical dimensions of all this, about how an audience can define terms in a way that, generally, is reserved exclusively for a very few people. In other words, a larger group working together can literally change the terms of discussion. Pretty interesting.