If You Google 'About the Author,' You Get Tom Friedman's Bio

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This delightful tidbit about the strange inner workings of Google's black box comes courtesy of W.W. Norton's Brendan Curry, who tweeted today that he'd serendipitously discovered this backdoor to the mustachioed author's official bio page.

"Accidentally searched for 'about the author' on Google. First result? Thomas L. Friedman's official bio," Curry wrote. "Now THAT's SEO."

I got curious, then. Was Friedman's position at the top of the rankings, in fact, search engine optimization? Looking at the source code, I have to reluctantly conclude that Farrar, Straus, and Giroux have done nothing untoward to make Friedman's bio rise to the top. They didn't stuff the (exceptionally long) bio with the word author or do anything aside from naming the page on which the bio sits, "About the Author."

Which leads me to the conclusion that this is not an SEO trick, but a reflection of how many people have linked to Tom Friedman's bio because they love or hate him. All of which should serve as a good reminder to every online writer: Google doesn't understand the irony in your links.

UPDATE! Gizmodo's Mat Honan (aka my friend Mat) also wrote to me to note something fascinating. If you Bing, err... Bing search, 'About the Author,' Thomas Friedman's not even on the first page of results. I also tried DuckDuckGo and Friedman was nowhere to be found there, either. So, what's up with that? Honestly, I have no idea why this would be a Google-only phenomenon.
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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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