Thursday, February 19, 2009

Hiding from Google

I recently started working on a project that has a * in the middle of its name - think of GM's On*Star as an example. Google (and other search engines I tried, including Microsoft Live, Yahoo!, and Lycos) all treat the * as a wildcard, and don't allow wildcard escaping.

Now On*Star isn't hard to find with Google, because the words "on" and "star" rarely appear together except in this context. But if you take two other words that frequently occur together, put a * between them, and then try to find references to that unique term, you won't get very far. For example, stimulus*package would not be a good name, nor would high*tech.

It's not clear to me whether the people who started this project knew that their project name would make it effectively impossible to find the project and either did that intentionally or didn't care, or whether it's a happenstance that is now a problem. But in any case, it's a way to hide in plain sight - any websites they have can be indexed by robots, but won't be found by searchers.


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