We know what you are looking for...but we can't provide it

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 12 April 2003

Today was a classic and painful reminder that even when we think we know what our users are looking for, we can't always provide it.

It is now a somehow universally acknowledged truth that Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf has become a media star as a result of the American and British invasion of Iraq. You can even buy t-shirts or enter Guardian competitions to suggest the spin-doctoring job he should take on next.

In the wake of this has come the inevitable comedy website - www.welovetheiraqiinformationminister.com - which grabbed a lot of press attention in the UK yesterday. As a result we saw a lot of searches for "iraqi information minister" and related keywords on BBCi.

Now I was 99.9% certain that our users were looking for the comedy website, but of course, as a recent phenomena on the web, none of the major search engines have spidered or indexed it, so it wasn't at the top of our web results. Or anyone else's.

Of the major engines Google and All The Web did best, with injected news headlines that were a reaction to the growing web cult of Saeed al-Sahhaf. MSN and Altavista seemed to have the worst results set, although Altavista too injected some news. As far as I could tell nobody actually had a direct link to www.welovetheiraqiinformationminister.com as their top result or top injected feed.

Although I believe I knew what our users were looking for, we couldn't direct them to it. Quite rightly the Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf site we recommend for the keyword "iraqi information minister" is his BBC News Online profile. The BBC has a massive editorial obligation on sensitive topics like this.

But it would have been lovely today to be the only web search that was pointing directly to www.welovetheiraqiinformationminister.com

My crumb of comfort is that at the time of writing worldwide demand has knocked the site over, so even if I had made, then won the argument to link to it, we would have had to pull the link within hours anyway.

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