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 Source: This article was published universalclass.com - Contributed by Member: Bridget Miller

The Internet is often the first place many people go when they need to do research. Though this might be the first place to look for basic information, the key to using the Internet wisely begins with understanding how the Internet works and how it can work for you.

How Internet Search Engines Work

An Internet search engine is akin to a library in the online setting. Within millions of domain names are stored pieces of information you can use for your research.

However, you need to begin somewhere.

Browser: The browser is the entryway to your Internet searches. You can use a variety of different search engines to help you begin your research, including:

  • Google
  • MSN's Bing
  • Ask
  • Yahoo!
  • Dogpile
  • Altavista
  • AOL search

No matter what search engine you decide to use, you will find a vast collection of resources. Many people choose one search engine before all others, and you might choose to do the same.

In collecting your information, assess how quickly the search engine can get your needed materials and then choose the search engine that works consistently for you. It is much easier to use one search engine than to use several.

While search engines are complex in the way they arrange their information, this is the basic setup.

  • Domain name: At the base, each Web site online has its own personal URL. This is the name of the Web site. For example, you might have www.Apple.com. This is Apple's Web site name. If you were to type this name into a browser or search engine, you would find a listing for the Apple site. If you typed in another spelling into a Web browser, you would not reach this site.
  • Domain details: After the domain name, you might see additional words, often after a back slash (/). This allows the site to break up into additional pages so a person can reach different pieces of information.
  • Subpages: Within those pages might be even more subpages, helping you further refine your search and find the results that you need to complete your research.
  • Keywords: Search engines operate much like a computer at a library might. You can type in a word that is related to your topic, a title of a book, an author, a question, or any other number of words to find results that are related to your search. Search engines rank the sites online by the keywords that are most related to the Web sites, as well as to keywords that are used most often on those sites. For example, when you want to look something up about dieting, you do not type in "carrot." You type in "diet" or "dieting." Search engines have complicated algorithms to determine what keywords match best to Web sites online.
  • Popularity: What you might not realize is that search engines also will rank Web sites based on how popular they are with users. For example, when you look up weight loss, you might find a site that talks about the health-related aspects of weight loss, rather than an actual weight loss plan. Why is this? More people decided to choose that Web site over weight loss product Web sites, so the search engine ranks it higher. These popularity rankings might change between search engines or they might change over the course of a week, depending on the popularity of a Web site.

Now that you know how a search engine basically operates, you can begin to see how you need to work with the search engine to find the pages and Web sites you need for your individual research. Though you might have a clear idea in mind of the questions you need to answer, you need to work with the search engine to ensure you can find the best possible information.

The Internet has a lot of information, and the main part of your research process will be sifting through your findings to determine what is useful. 

Search Engine Strategies

When you first use a search engine to look up the answer to a question or to begin a research project, you will notice something: Some of the results you receive are relevant and some are not. This happens because search engines all have different rules about how the search engine results will be listed.

To maximize the efficiency of your search engine search, you need to use strategies that help you find the most relevant results first. This will reduce your research time and ensure the sites on the list will help you with your project.

  • One-word search: The simplest way to use a search engine is to type in one word that is crucial to your search. This might be a word that is in your research title or a certain item you need to know more about to be prepared for a presentation.
  • One-phrase search: If you have a phrase that is often attributed to your main topic, then you can use this in search engines.
  • Multiple term search: When you want to make your search as specific as possible, you might want to type in as many keywords as possible to make sure you are narrowing the results. For example, instead of "diet," you might type in "diet healthy vegetarian."
  • Quotation marks: If you want the search engine to search for something that is spelled the same way that you typed it in, surround the word with quotation marks. This tells the search engine that you want only results that match the spelling exactly.
  • "AND": One of the Boolean operators is "AND," which is a way to tell the search engine that you want to include multiple words in the search engine results. For example, if you want to talk about salt and pepper, then you might type in "salt AND pepper." This will lead to results that include both of the keywords.
  • "NOT": If you have a term you need to research, but you do not want another term associated with it, then you would use another Boolean operator. For example, you want to research "pepper NOT salt." This will exclude any results that include salt.
  • "OR": The last used Boolean operator is "OR." If you are not sure what you need to include, but you need to include both terms, you might put "salt OR pepper." Your results might include one or the other or both keywords.
  • Use common terms: If you need to do some research on sweatshirts, it might be better to use the word "sweatshirt" instead of "hoodie." Think about the most basic term associated with the idea you need to research.
  • Synonyms: You also may want to choose to use synonyms of the topic you need to research if you cannot find the original word online. You can turn to your thesaurus for help with finding synonyms.
  • Related terms: You may also want to create a list of related words that can help you begin to find more research results. When talking about an engagement, for example, you might include "diamond ring" in your search list, too.
  • List the most significant word first: When you have a list of words you will use in your search engine, type in the most important word first. This will ensure the search engine focuses on the most important term.
  • Asterisks: When you are not quite sure how to spell a word or you are missing a part of a phrase, you can use an asterisk to tell the search engine you need help. For example, if you are not sure what Shakespeare's important quote in Hamlet was, you might type "to be * to be." This would return results that answer your question.
  • Question marks: If you are not sure about your keywords or a part of the phrase you are typing into the search engine, then use a question mark.
  • Plus (+) sign: You can also use this to link together the keywords you want to be used as a part of the search process. For example, you might use "peanut+butter+jelly."

It can also help to review the help section of your search engine to see what types of search options it offers. Because the search engines all operate differently, you need to make sure you are playing by their rules to get the best results.

Advanced Search Engine Strategies

When you want to make sure that your search engine is giving you the best results, you can use the strategies above, or you can continue to boost your results by using these more advanced research strategies:

  • Use the "advanced results" option. Some search engines, including Google, offer an advanced results option. When you are unable to find results you need for your research, extend your research into that section. The more boxes you can fill out here, the more you will be able to refine your results.
  • Use another language. If your results might be listed under a different language or in another country, make sure to list other possible languages the text might be in.
  • Specify the date. When you need to have results from a certain time period, add the date or the time period of the results you want to see.
  • Specify the file format. You might want to find a certain document online, but without specifying the type of document, this can be tricky. Instead, add in whether you need a .doc, .docx, .pdf, .ppt, .pptx, or other type of file to refine your results.
  • Specify the type of site. You can also make sure you are only getting useful sites by typing in things like ".edu" and ".gov" with your keywords. This will qualify your results and give you only results that are college and university Web sites or those that are run by government agencies.

The more that you begin to refine your search, the more effective results you will have. The better your research, the better the results. 

Potential Problems with Internet Research

While more people use the Internet than ever before for their research, this is not without its troubles. The Internet contains valuable information, but it also contains information that has not been well-researched.

Another set of problems occurs when a person uses the Internet for all research.

Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Choose respected sites. It is best to choose Web sites that have been used for years and that are run by a team of experts. At the very least, the Web site should have some sort of expertise or have a board of editors that helps ensure that information on the site is accurate.
  • Consider the objectivity of the Web site. When you read a Web site about the benefits of beef, look to see who is sponsoring the site. If a beef company is sponsoring the site, you might want to look at the information more carefully. While a site may not be lying about the information it posts, the site might be influenced by its sponsors.
  • Realize that some publications cannot be posted online. There are some journals and articles that might not be able to be posted online due to copyright issues. Some articles can only be found in print at libraries.
  • Notice that some publications are limited online. Many publications are limiting the content they have online. When this is the case, you might only be able to find a portion of the content you need.
  • Some research can only be obtained online via memberships. Some journals and magazines online will post all of their latest issue's contents, but a person will need to subscribe to be a member to access the information.

The Internet is one research tool, but it is not the only research tool. Instead of looking at the Internet as the only way to find what you need, look at the Internet as a helpful starting point.

You might be able to find the basic information you need, but do not limit yourself to just this research tool.

Categorized in Search Engine

Online Methods to Investigate the Who, Where, and When of a Person. Another great list by Internet search expert Henk Van Ess.

Searching the Deep Web, by Giannina Segnini. Beginning with advanced tips on sophisticated Google searches, this presentation at GIJC17 by the director of Columbia University Journalism School’s Data Journalism Program moves into using Google as a bridge to the Deep Web using a drug trafficking example. Discusses tracking the container, the ship, and customs. Plus, Facebook research and more.

Tools, Useful Links & Resources, by Raymond Joseph, a journalist and trainer with South Africa’s Southern Tip Media. Six packed pages of information on Twitter, social media, verification, domain and IP information, worldwide phonebooks, and more. In a related GICJ17 presentation, Joseph described “How to be Digital Detective.” 

IntelTechniques is prepared by Michael Bazzell, a former US government computer crime investigator and now an author and trainer. See the conveniently organized resources in left column under “Tools.” (A Jan. 2, 2018, blog post discusses newly added material.)

Investigate with Document Cloud, by Doug Haddix, Executive Director, Investigative Reporters and Editors. A guide to using 1.6 million public documents shared by journalists, analyzing and highlighting your own documents, collaborating with others, managing document workflows and sharing your work online.

Malachy Browne’s Toolkit. More than 80 links to open source investigative tools by one of the best open-source sleuths in the business. When this New York Times senior story producer flashed this slide at the end of his packed GIJC17 session, nearly everyone requested access.

Social Media Sleuthing, by Michael Salzwedel. “Not Hacking, Not Illegal,” begins this presentation from GIJC17 by a founding partner and trainer at Social Weaver.

Finding Former Employees, by James Mintz. “10 Tips on Investigative Reporting’s Most Powerful Move: Contacting Formers,” according to veteran private investigator Mintz, founder and president of The Mintz Group.

Investigative Research Links from Margot Williams. The former research editor at The Intercept offers an array of suggestions, from “Effective Google Searching” to a list of “Research Guru” sites.

Bellingcat’s Digital Forensics Tools, a wide variety of resources here: for maps, geo-based searches, images, social media, transport, data visualization, experts and more.

List of Tools for Social Media Research, a tipsheet from piqd.de’s Frederik Fischer at GIJC15.

SPJ Journalist’s Toolbox from the Society of Professional Journalists in the US, curated by Mike Reilley. Includes an extensive list of, well, tools.

How to find an academic research paper, by David Trilling, a staff writer for Journalist’s Resource, based at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

Using deep web search engines for academic and scholarly research, an article by Chris Stobing in VPN & Privacy, a publication of Comparitech.com, a UK company that aims to help consumers make more savvy decisions when they subscribe to tech services such as VPNs.

Step by step guide to safely accessing the darknet and deep web, an article by Paul Bischoff in VPN & Privacy, a publication of Comparitech.com, a UK company that aims to help consumers make more savvy decisions when they subscribe to tech services such as VPNs.

Research Beyond Google: 56 Authoritative, Invisible, and Comprehensive Resources, a resource from Open Education Database, a US firm that provides a comprehensive online education directory for both free and for-credit learning options.

The Engine Room,  a US-based international NGO, created an Introduction to Web Resources, that includes a section on making copies of information to protect it from being lost or changed.

Awesome Public Datasets, a very large community-built compilation organized by topic.

Online Research Tools and Investigative Techniques by the BBC’s ace online sleuth Paul Myers has long been a starting point for online research by GIJN readers. His website, Research Clinic, is rich in research links and “study materials.”

Source: This article was published gijn.org

Categorized in Online Research

When reading Wikipedia’s 1992 Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics you can easily substitute “Internet” for “computer” and it’s amazing what you see…., for example the 1stCommandment “You shall not use the Internet to harm other people.”  Here are all Ten Commandments of Internet Ethics (with my minor edits):

  1. You shall not use the Internet to harm other people.
  2. You shall not interfere with other people’s Internet work.
  3. You shall not snoop around in other people’s Internet files.
  4. You shall not use the Internet to steal.
  5. You shall not use the Internet to bear false witness.
  6. You shall not copy or use proprietary software for which you have not paid (without permission).
  7. You shall not use other people’s Internet resources without authorization or proper compensation.
  8. You shall not appropriate other people’s intellectual output.
  9. You shall think about the social consequences of the program you are writing or the system you are designing.
  10. You shall always use the Internet in ways that ensure consideration and respect for your fellow humans.

For those of us who used the Internet 1992 it’s great to see that the Ethics of the Internet in 1992 (from the Computer Ethics Institute) applies in 2016!

Source: This article was published vogelitlawblog.com By Peter S. Vogel

Categorized in Internet Ethics

Each day, Benzinga takes a look back at a notable market-related moment that occurred on this date.

What Happened?

On this day 22 years ago, Open Text Corp (USA) OTEX 0.89%became the first internet search engine company to go public.

Where Was The Market?

The S&P 500 was trading at 635.84 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was at 5373.99.

What Else Was Going On In The World?

In 1996, a Mad Cow Disease epidemic in the U.K. resulted in the mass slaughter of entire herds of cows. The number of global internet users reached 10 million. The minimum hourly wage in the U.S. was raised to $5.15 per hour.

The Beginning Of Something Big

Investors today know Alphabet Inc GOOG 2.35%GOOGL 2.07% and its Google search engine as the dominant force in internet search and advertising. However, more than eight years before Google went public in 2004, there wasn’t a single internet search company trading on a major U.S. exchange.

Open Text changed that story when it held its IPO in February 1996. Open Text led the charge of search engine IPOs and was followed by Lycos, Excite and Yahoo within four months time.

Compared to the other search engine stocks of the Dot Com Bubble, (notably Yahoo) Open Text’s run-up was relatively modest. The company’s market cap peaked at just around $1.3 billion in early 2000 before crashing back down to around $400 million later in the year.

Open Text still trades on the Nasdaq to this day. The company now develops and sells enterprise information management software.

 Source: This article was published benzinga.com By Wayne Duggan, Benzinga Staff

Categorized in Search Engine

Google has quality raters specifically for voice search-related search results. These raters look for information satisfaction, length, formulation, and elocution.

Google has published on the Google Research blog the search quality raters guidelines, contractors guidelines to evaluate Google’s search results, specifically for the Google Assistant and voice search results. It is similar to the web search quality guidelines, but it changes in that there is no screen to look at when evaluating such results; instead you are evaluating the voice responses from the Google Assistant.

Google explained, “The Google Assistant needs its own guidelines in place, as many of its interactions utilize what is called ‘eyes-free technology,’ when there is no screen as part of the experience.” Google has designed machine learning and algorithms to try to make the voice responses and “answers grammatical, fluent and concise.” Google said that they ask raters to make sure that answers are satisfactory across several dimensions:

  • Information Satisfaction: the content of the answer should meet the information needs of the user.
  • Length: when a displayed answer is too long, users can quickly scan it visually and locate the relevant information. For voice answers, that is not possible. It is much more important to ensure that we provide a helpful amount of information, hopefully not too much or too little. Some of our previous work is currently in use for identifying the most relevant fragments of answers.
  • Formulation: it is much easier to understand a badly formulated written answer than an ungrammatical spoken answer, so more care has to be placed in ensuring grammatical correctness.
  • Elocution: spoken answers must have proper pronunciation and prosody. Improvements in text-to-speech generation, such as WaveNet and Tacotron 2, are quickly reducing the gap with human performance.

The short, only seven-page, guidelines can be downloaded as a PDF over here.

Source: This article was published searchengineland.com By Barry Schwartz

Categorized in Search Engine

In a move that goes beyond ordinary ad blockers, Google announced Chrome will begin blocking a large variety of advertisements. Because Chrome is the number one browser, this change will have a dramatic impact on how websites do business. While there is no cause for worry, you should still be concerned. In the long run, this may actually benefit the Internet.

Why Will Google Chrome Block Ads?

Google earns a significant amount of income from displaying ads on websites. However third party ad blockers currently block a significant amount of Google ads, even though Google’s advertising conforms to the standards created by Coalition for Better ads. This move will likely undercut third-party ad blockers that currently block Google’s own ads.

Chrome Ad Blocker may be a life saver for publishers who rely on standards compliant advertising.

Will Google’s Ad Blocker be Bad for Publishers?

The short answer is no. In the long run, Google’s ad blocker may be good for web publishers who rely on advertising revenue.

Google’s ad blocker will likely allow the display of Google’s own visitor-friendly advertising. In the long run, the use of third-party ad blockers may decline, resulting in more of Google’s own advertising being shown.

This is a win-win for any publisher who relies on Google’s advertising for earnings and for site visitors who are tired of intrusive advertising.

When Will Chrome Ad Blocker Affect You?

Chrome’s ad blocker begins blocking ads on February 15th, 2018. Google has provided a tool that will allow you to troubleshoot your site to make sure it will conform to the Better Ads standards.

What Kind of Advertising Will be Blocked?

In general, anything that blocks a significant amount of content and prevents users from comfortably reading content is subject to being blocked. Fortunately, there are standards that can be consulted to know exactly which ads will be blocked.

Here is a list of the kinds of advertising that will be blocked:

Desktop Ads that Chrome will be blocked:

  1. Pop-up ads
  2. Auto-playing video ads with sound
  3. Prestitial Ads with Countdown
  4. Large Sticky Ads

Mobile Ads that Chrome Will Block:

  1. Pop-ups
  2. Prestitial ads w/without countdown (blocks entire content)
  3. Ad density greater than 30% of content vertically. This can be 15% top and bottom blocked.
  4. 50% single-column ad density
  5. 35% single-column ad density
  6. 30% single-column ad density
  7. Flashing Animated Ads
  8. Auto-play video ads with sound
  9. Positial ads with a countdown (that cannot be dismissed) – These are ads that spawn after a link is clicked, that prevents a user from reaching another web page.
  10. Full-screen Scroll over ads. These are ads that force a user to scroll past it to get to the content. They usually block about 30% of the browser viewport.
  11. Large sticky ads – These are ads that take up more than 30% of a screen and is persistent. It does not go away no matter what direction a user scrolls, obscuring the content and resulting in a poor user experience.

The complete official standards are available as a PDF download here.

Will Chrome’s Ad Blocker Affect Affiliate Advertisers?

It’s difficult to say with certainty. But it may be safe to say that if your affiliate ads and links are standards compliant, then there’s a good chance this will not affect your earnings. Google has created a tool to take the guesswork out of this question.

How to Know if Your Ads Will be Blocked?

It’s a simple matter to test if your ads will be blocked. Google is providing a tool that will scan your site and issue a report of any pages that are in violation. If any page is in violation you will be able to fix it then resubmit those pages for approval.

Visit this page for your Ad Experience Report: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/ad-experience-unverified

Chrome is currently the most popular browser in the world. This move will change how users experience the web. There’s no incentive for publishers to stop using intrusive advertising. Chrome will simply block them. Consumers on other browsers may continue seeing those intrusive ads. This may be a win-win for the Chrome browser and those who use it. But this may also be a win-win-win if you include web publishers who rely on advertising income.

Source: This article was published searchenginejournal.com By Roger Montti

Categorized in How to

Over the last few years, Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) has consistently taken a growing share of online product searches from general internet search engines like Google. Searches for products like "raincoat" or "Chromebook" are immensely valuable to search engines, as they suggest more intent to buy than searches for information. That means the Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOG) (NASDAQ: GOOGL) company can charge more for ads on those searches than others.

Over the past year, Google has taken back a good chunk of product searches. Combined with other general search engines, Google took 36% of product searches on the web, up from 28% last year, according to a survey from Survata. Amazon, meanwhile, saw its share fall back below 50% to 49%, down 6 percentage points.

Image source: Getty Images.

How Google is taking back share

Survata attributes Google's resurgence in product searches to an improved mobile experienced combined with a continued increase in mobile commerce. Shopping and paying for things on mobile is easier than ever with mobile wallets containing both payment and shipping information. Mobile will account for more than half of all online shopping this holiday season, according to an estimate from Adobe.

Google is certainly winning in the near term, as it's the default search engine on pretty much every mobile browser. The Google app is also one of the most popular apps installed on smartphones, which means a new search is always just a tap away. Indeed, the Survata survey indicates Google was preferred over Amazon in cases where shoppers were looking for inspiration, not seeking a specific item.

That said, Amazon also has a dominant mobile presence, especially among millennials. Millennials go so far as to say Amazon is their must-have app, over social media apps like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat. As millennials' buying power grows, Amazon's hold over them is only going to strengthen its position in search, and Google might reach a plateau on the share of product searches it can win back.

Why shoppers are heading to Amazon instead of Google

Prime has long been considered the biggest reason shoppers head to Amazon when looking to do some online shopping. The sunk cost of the two-day shipping program makes consumers look to get the most out their $99 as possible.

But the Survata data shows something different. Only 17% of respondents said Amazon's shipping capabilities impacted their decision to start on Amazon. More common reasons for starting on Amazon include easy navigation (28%), product selection (27%), and price (25%).

The good news for Google and its parent company's investors is that it's capable of competing on all three of those fronts. Scraping more and better data from retailers will provide Google with incomparable "product selection" and price data. As I mentioned above, Google has already taken steps to improve the user experience (particularly on mobile) to make its product listings easier to navigate.

The bad news for Google is that checking Amazon first is already an entrenched habit for half of the consumers. Even as more consumers do more of their shopping online, Google is competing with trying to change habits. Google has been the beneficiary of ingrained habits, maintaining a dominant lead over other search engines, so it knows firsthand how difficult they can be to overcome.

What this all means for investors

Online product searches can be extremely valuable to search engines -- whether they're retailer-specific search engines or general internet search engines. While Amazon's dominance in the category is waning, it's nothing for Amazon investors to get alarmed about. After all, specific product searches on general search engines can often lead to Amazon.com.

The bigger opportunity is for Google to continue improving its product search experience on both mobile and desktop. Google can take the share of the growing number of consumers that look for inspiration with product searches. Those less-specific product searches could be more valuable to Google, as multiple brands and retailers may be interested in bidding on ad space in the search results.

Google's efforts are clearly paying off so far. Watch for further improvements in the future.

10 stocks we like better than Alphabet (C shares)

When investing geniuses David and Tom Gardner have a stock tip, it can pay to listen. After all, the newsletter they have run for over a decade, Motley Fool Stock Advisor, has tripled the market.*

David and Tom just revealed what they believe are the 10 best stocks for investors to buy right now... and Alphabet (C shares) wasn't one of them! That's right -- they think these 10 stocks are even better buys.

Source: This article was published host.madison.com By Adam Levy

Categorized in Search Engine

Find Specific Information Faster With Google's Cache

Did you find the perfect search result but the website is down? Did the information recently change? Fear not, you can use this Google power search trick to find a cached image of the page and still find the precise information you need. 

As Google indexes Web pages, it retains a snapshot of the page contents, known as a cached page. This page is periodically updated with new cached images. 

  1. In the search results, click on the triangle next to the URL of your desired search term.
  1. Selected "Cached." (Your choices should be "cached" and "similar.")

Clicking on the Cached link will often show you the page as it was last indexed on Google, but with your search keywords highlighted. This method is extremely useful if you want to find a particular piece of information without having to scan the entire page. If your search term isn't highlighted, just use control or command-F and type in your search phrase. 

Limitations of Caches

Keep in mind that this shows the last time the page was indexed, so sometimes images won't display, and the information will be out of date. For most quick searches, that doesn't matter. You can always go back to the current version of the page and double check to see if the information has changed. Some pages also instruct Google to make historical pages unavailable through use of a protocol called "robots.txt."

Website designers can also elect to keep pages private from Google searches by removing them from the site index or "noindexing" them.

Once that is done, the cached pages are usually still available in the Wayback machine, although they may not show up in Google. 

Google Syntax to View the Cache

You can cut to the chase and go directly to the cached page using the Cache:syntax. Searching for AdSense information on this site would look something like this:

cache:google.about.com adsense

This language is case sensitive, so make sure "cache:" is lower case. You also need to make sure there is no space between cache: and your URL. You do need a space between your URL and your search phrase. It's not necessary to put the "HTTP://" part in the URL.

Note: Use Command/Control F to highlight keywords or jump to the desired spot.

The Internet Archive

If you're interested in the oldest archived pages, you can also go to the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine.   It's not maintained by Google, but the Wayback Machine has sites that are indexed as far back as 1999.

The Google Time Machine

As part of their tenth birthday celebration, Google introduced the oldest index they still had available. The old search engine was only brought back as part of Google's tenth birthday, and the feature is now gone.

Source: This article was published lifewire.com By Marziah Karch

Categorized in How to

Katy Perry, an avowed Hillary supporter, may not be excited about one corner of her fandom that we’ve discovered. Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Is searching the web with Bing less likely to nurse a person’s tiny inner troll into a democracy wrecking monster?

Microsoft’s search engine doesn’t even register as a traffic source on Parse.ly’s dashboard tracking the top sources of web referral, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Bing’s results are bad. Meanwhile, there’s real reason to worry about how Google steers web users.

Last week Paste Magazine posted an intriguing article contending that the political right has built up a network of websites that post similar content with similar angles in dozens of different places. By posting similar wackiness in lots of places, it explains, the insanity looks more credible when viewed through the lens of Google. If a user runs a search for a particular vein of alternative facts, they will get so many similar results that it could almost look true. Reading it made us wonder if the same tricks also warp results on other search engines, such as Microsoft’s Bing and France’s privacy-focused site, Qwant.

Google and Facebook are the two main ways that people find media, as we’ve previously reported. No other search engine drives a significant portion of overall web traffic.

The writer of Paste‘s piece, Roger Sollenberger, attests that he has experience with SEO hacking, having previously worked at a small firm in a competitive industry that managed to worm its way to the top of Google. He demonstrates that when people search for red meat conservative topics, Google tends to surface lots of very similar posts from non-mainstream websites. The post argues that this is accomplished using clever search engine optimization (SEO) tricks, such as cross-linking heavily. No one knows exactly how Google prioritizes search results, but people who have tested and retested the algorithms have found tricks to make certain content rise above others.

So do the same tricks work as well on Bing and Qwant?

Search I: “obama classified information bin laden”

First, we tried the same two searches that Paste did to demonstrate the power of SEO in the post. The first one he wrote about was “obama classified information bin laden.” It came up following the accusations that Trump had revealed information he shouldn’t to Russian diplomats. When Paste ran the test, all the results on the front page were from highly questionable sites, like The Federalist and Trump Train News. The very last result on the front page leads to the Pulitzer-prize winning website, Politifact, the only reputable outlet on the page.

We ran the same search Monday, and the Google results were about the same:

google obama classified information bin laden 5 Searches That Show Bing Resists Alternative Facts Better Than Google

Search on June 5, 2017. Screenshot

It’s worth a note of caution that not everyone will get the same results for the same Google search. The site was long ago found to have a “filter bubble,” meaning it targeted results to what it believed the person searching wanted. The company may or may not have reined this in. It’s one of those questions it’s tough to get a straight answer to.

So were Bing’s results comparably wacky? No. When we ran this result yesterday, Bing recommended several more mainstream sites:

bing obama classified information bin laden 5 Searches That Show Bing Resists Alternative Facts Better Than Google

Bing’s version of the Obama leak search. Screenshot

The third result is CNN, the fifth is a local CBS affiliate and the eighth is Vanity Fair. No, the “lamestream media” doesn’t always follow the right story and it’s far from infallible, but we understand what its standards are, how it operates and how to hold these sources accountable. It’s encouraging to see some reputable sites mixed in with the digital dittoheads of Breitbart and The Federalist.

We wanted to highlight Qwant for this story, though, because it uses an interesting design that separates web results from news sources and social. All show up on the page, but it’s easy to see which is which. This feels like a useful innovation. DuckDuckGo is another privacy-oriented search engine that we’ve covered before.

qwant obama classified information bin laden 5 Searches That Show Bing Resists Alternative Facts Better Than Google

Qwant results for the Obama leaks search. Screenshot

So here the purveyors of alternative facts still get their say, but under “web,” not “news.” Right alongside their posts, sites like CNN and CBS show up, creating a distinction in the quality of sources. In this particular case, though, it doesn’t look like the two sets of results directly address the same topic, however. We’ll later find that Qwant may not be quite up to the task of delineating which sources should defined as news, either. But it’s a nice idea.

Search II. “trump no evidence collusion”

Sollenberger wanted to run this search in order to tell a story about how the Trump administration is throwing a veil of doubts over mounting allegations that the president is too cozy with Moscow. When he ran his search, he got results from RealClearPolitics and The Hill, but writes that there’s not a single mainstream site in his results. Those two sites seem perfectly fine, even if they aren’t household names.

When we ran the search Monday, our results were similar, but not exactly the same. Newsweek shows up at the top. Forbes shows up in the web results (though it looks like its a result from a contributor, not a staff writer). Google swapped The Weekly Standard for The Daily Caller as a right-wing news source at the top.

google trump no evidence collusion 5 Searches That Show Bing Resists Alternative Facts Better Than Google

Google on the Russia-Trump connection. Google

Interestingly, Bing’s search layout really changes for this query. It breaks out news results first (that last one is the website of an independent journalist who previously worked for CBS News for many years). Then Bing throws some YouTube videos in the middle (which mostly look like folks ranting for their web cams) and then ends with what appears to be overall web results (yet the first one is from NBC).

bing trump no evidence collusion 5 Searches That Show Bing Resists Alternative Facts Better Than Google

Bing, “no evidence” search. Bing

This search is tough, though, because it apes a talking point that only the right wants to discuss, so it’s less surprising that it surfaces a bunch of similar results.

Qwant totally chokes in the news section for this result. Its second and third results under news are both from Russian state-owned news agencies. Honestly, which is worse? Unscrupulously biased sources or those that exist mainly to advance the agenda of one of the world’s great dictators? As The New York Times executive editor, Dean Baquet said at SXSW, if a news source isn’t engaged in “an honorable pursuit of the truth,” it shouldn’t be credentialed as journalistic.

qwant trump no evidence collusion 5 Searches That Show Bing Resists Alternative Facts Better Than Google

Qwant lists two sites closely tied to the Russian government as news sources. Qwant

Unlike the prior search, this one is recent enough that it lit up the social search function on the site, though mainly we see social media users eager to cut and paste the party line. Let’s hear it for fearless independence.

Next, we did some searches of our own. We opened up the leading alt-right site, Breitbart News, for inspiration.

Fun fact about Breitbart: the site publishes a little speech bubble alongside every headline to show how many comments a given story received on the site and on Facebook. Every single post on the front page when we looked yesterday had a big fat zero in that little icon. Today? Same thing. We went into the Internet Archive to look at the front page a year ago and see if it had been better then, but no: all zeros then too. It’s hard to understand why they include this widget in their design when it looks so bad.

We did find one story that Breitbart readers wanted to talk about, though. This one: Katy Perry in Manchester: ‘Touch the Person Next to You’ and Tell Them ‘I Love You’ to Help ‘Conquer Hate.’ It had over 30 comments when we looked yesterday, but now it’s up to 50 (and more than 27,000 shares on Facebook).

OK Breitbart readers. We see you. We know who you are now.

Search III: Katy Perry Manchester

google katy perry manchester 5 Searches That Show Bing Resists Alternative Facts Better Than Google

Google confirms that Breitbart is secretly a Katy Perry fan site. Google

This helps add some color to the story Sollenberger wrote. Nothing about this undermines his larger point, but it does show that even on topics where the right has tried to weigh in, they can’t necessarily dominate the conversation with high middle-of-the-road and apolitical interest. It is somewhat remarkable that Breitbart has the top story on a Katy Perry show and Rolling Stone is down there in search result dregs, however. The Alphabet posse might want to have a look at that.

In fact, Bing’s having none of it. “This is a music story,” Microsoft’s wannabe search engine appears to retort, and Rolling Stone gets the top link. E! and People also come in ahead of Breitbart as well.

I’m no expert on Ms. Perry, but this seems reasonable.

bing katy perry manchester 5 Searches That Show Bing Resists Alternative Facts Better Than Google

Bing favors Rolling Stone over Breitbart for a music story. Bing

Lastly, Qwant has the most well-rounded perspective on this event with its results, though somehow Breitbart still ranks very high. There’s something we don’t understand here, but we’ll leave it for now.

qwant katy perry manchester 5 Searches That Show Bing Resists Alternative Facts Better Than Google

They know Breitbart readers love Katy Perry in France, too. Qwant

Search IV: “judges immigration laws”

The top story on Breitbart when we visted yesterday was one about judges humiliated by the way they were made to enforce immigration laws (honestly, it’s a tough story to follow). This seemed like it hit the conservative buttons, though, so we ran tested it.

Google doesn’t seem to be bogged down by the right wing echo chamber at all on this one. It has three links the Department of Justice and one to The New York Times. Yes, Breitbart leads the news results at the top, but it was also the only site writing this story at the time of yesterday’s search.

google judges immigration law 5 Searches That Show Bing Resists Alternative Facts Better Than Google

Filter bubble popped? Google

Then Bing really crushes this search, delivering a wide array of perspectives on a complicated topic, mostly from reputable outlets.

bing judgees immigration law 5 Searches That Show Bing Resists Alternative Facts Better Than Google

Bing really focuses on breadth in this current event topic. Bing

Aside from a completely bizarre first post about unionizing a car wash under “news,” Qwant delivers a sort of hybrid of the two approaches, with a bit of commentary from the lumpen tossed in under the social column.

qwant judges immigration law 5 Searches That Show Bing Resists Alternative Facts Better Than Google

Qwant mixes news with government sources. Qwant

Search V: “travel ban uk attacks”

Breitbart also posted a story Monday backing Trump’s call for a travel bansubsequent to attacks in the United Kingdom. If the right really have managed to control the dialogue online, this felt like one that would be easy for those sites to dominate.

Not so much. This was a legitimately huge story, and Google knew well enough to turn it over to sites like CNN and Reuters. Good job, Mountain View.

google trump travel ban uk attacks 5 Searches That Show Bing Resists Alternative Facts Better Than Google

Where’s the crazy in these results? Google

Bing also doesn’t appear very interested in letting the peanut gallery take over at an important historical moment. It has results from ABC and the BBC, with a couple helpings of the “fair and balanced” Fox News in the mix.

bing trump travel ban uk attacks 5 Searches That Show Bing Resists Alternative Facts Better Than Google

Bing also takes a pass on feeding the madness. Bing

Lastly, Qwant: the standout result here shows that apparently AOL still stumbles along in the UK. Fascinating. Do they still use AIM in that newsroom? We’ll save that for a future post.

qwant trump travel ban uk attacks 5 Searches That Show Bing Resists Alternative Facts Better Than Google

Qwant’s travel ban results. Qwant

So after running through these five searches, Paste‘s case remains strong, but the situation also isn’t quite so dire. These results suggest that when the right is able to define a narrow viewpoint that inspires its base, it really can use its echo chamber to orchestrate an appearance of consensus. On the other hand, it also doesn’t look like that echo chamber is powerful enough to outshout the larger discussion when real news and real facts have both the mainstream and the extremes engaged.

That said, it does appear that Google is susceptible to an SEO strategy when the right really leans into its readers’ confirmation bias. Bing, on the other hand, does a better job of trying to mix in alternative viewpoints and more reliable reporting, even if it can’t find anyone from the mainstream talking about whatever Breitbart readers have gotten worked up about. Even just throwing in some tangentially relevant Washington Post or Vox stories helps to remind folks who’ve bought homes in Crazy Town that there’s other people living healthy lives beyond city limits.

Source: This article was published observer.com By Brady Dale

Categorized in Search Engine

When a daggy but twinkly-eyed stranger approached Good Weekend writer Stephanie Wood via her dormant online dating profile, she responded with due diligence and low expectations. Live a little, said her friends. She did. And learnt a lot.

HE LAUGHED when I pointed out the axe. "Well," I said. "That could have ruined my weekend." I joked about axe murderers. "What was I thinking?" I said. "I still have no idea who you are." I considered the concept of me as a headline; something sensational, something like, "Journalist slain in farmhouse love-tryst tragedy."

But by the time we'd found the axe, it was the morning after the evening before and I was a bit loved up. The playlist I'd made had drifted through the night, through Peggy Lee's Fever and April Stevens' Teach Me Tiger. The high anxiety I'd felt about spending a weekend away with a man I barely knew had subsided. It was a crisp, lovely morning in June 2014 and we were brushing close. Easy then, to find comedy value in a horror trope. Besides, this man wasn't an axe murderer. He was daggy and gentle and his green eyes twinkled.

Photo: istockPhoto: istock 

The man had found my dormant profile on a dating website some weeks earlier. Generally, I'd rather stay home and clean the oven than venture into the badlands of 21st-century dating. The things you do in the search for simpatico: the weary keyboard hours, the assaults on eye and sensibility. And then, as despair descends, someone marginally interesting flashes up. One minute you're looking at a tattooed torso with a come-hither trail of abdominal hair and a rescue-shelter expression; the next, there was his message.

He said he had retired from his architecture practice and now divided his time between caring for his two children in Sydney and his small sheep farm south of the city. I was encouraged because he put apostrophes in the right place. We exchanged photos. In one, he wore a battered Akubra and looked thin and sullen. In another, he was in a boat and looked friendlier, chubbier. I emailed to say I liked his hat and that I didn't get seasick.

I WAS LATE for our first meeting at a city bar, stuck in a cab in traffic. He texted me: I'm here, a tad early. Inside the front door, in green jacket, warming myself by this roaring candle and feeling like a total wallflower. He had a glass of pinot noir waiting for me when I rushed in. I think we shook hands.

Low light and the nervy exertion of conversation with a stranger made it hard to form much of an impression of the man with whom I was now committed to spending a polite amount of time. I had a notion he was short. I could see that his belly strained against a crumpled shirt's buttons. But I noticed his hair: thick, dark, sprinkled with grey.

He presented his credentials: he'd worked in the city, he said – at his own architectural practice and, later, at a private equity firm – but he never wanted to wear a suit again. They were all packed away; some had come from Savile Row. I asked questions about meat and livestock. He showed me photos of his sheep and his farm's accommodation – a tumble-down shack little bigger than an outdoor loo. He said a house he'd designed was soon to be built on the land, which he was regenerating with indigenous grasses.

I asked more questions. He talked – about the harbourside home he'd built years ago for his young family in the suburb where he'd grown up; he'd retained it after the divorce and his little yacht was moored below it. He told me about his late grandfather, a prominent businessman.

A photo the man sent and the accompanying text exchange. "The boys" refers to sheep off to an abattoir. He painted a ...A photo the man sent and the accompanying text exchange. "The boys" refers to sheep off to an abattoir. He painted a self-portrait of himself as a decent man, perhaps a bit eccentric, a bit-bruised.

 

Eventually, he asked me about me, about my work. "You must be well-connected?" he asked. The man had an ugly broken top tooth and I didn't like that. I didn't like that question, either. Pretentious nong, I thought. Two strikes, you're out. But when he stood to pay the bill, I saw he was tall, over six foot, and for a moment I imagined running a hand through that thick hair. I remembered what women are told about men: "Don't be so picky."

We met again a week later. The conversation turned to matters of culture: he talked about the script he'd written for a comedy series about office cleaners, and said that sometimes he went to the ballet on his own. I told him I liked gardening. He said that, next time, he'd bring me some sheep shit. He told preposterous stories and laughed uproariously at himself. He had an odd, old-man sense of humour but I laughed with him. On our third date, he forgot to bring the sheep shit but showed me photos of his children and said he baked cakes on Sundays for their school lunches.

More text exchanges between the writer and the man included photos of the NSW Southern Highlands property the man ...More text exchanges between the writer and the man included photos of the NSW Southern Highlands property the man claimed to be buying. 

Using the subtle brushstrokes of a watercolourist, he painted a self-portrait of himself as a decent man, perhaps a bit bruised, perhaps a bit eccentric, but gentle, kind. Studying that artwork from all angles, leaning on instinct, unreliable narrator that it is, and, finally, blinded by flattery and desire and too many glasses of wine, I was inclined to take a risk. We kissed on our fourth date. I emerged for breath and could see the lights sparkling on the Harbour Bridge.

In a text message that pinged as a taxi's easy-listening radio romanced me home, he asked if I'd go away for a weekend in the country with him. A week later, as I drove down a highway to meet him at a rental cottage in a valley, quivery with nerves, another text arrived: Fire will be on. Dinner cooking. If my dog bails you up, her name is D----, she's very friendly.

Of course I Googled him. Wouldn't you? It would be foolish not to establish the basic truth of his identity before things went much further.

I pulled into the driveway behind a battered Land Rover Defender ute as the day's last glow fell behind the mountains. And there he was, on the veranda, tall, with that hair, a kelpie bouncing around his boots.

We ate the lamb he'd barbecued for dinner and drank red wine beside the fire and I fed him oozy French cheese on sourdough. I cooked him eggs and applewood-smoked bacon for breakfast. We walked through a dewy garden and discovered an old hut, a mini-museum of pioneer photos and farm equipment: shovels and pitchforks, scythes and saws, an axe. But I didn't see the sinister. I wasn't looking for it.

OF COURSE I Googled him. Wouldn't you? The man sat in a context of his own making; it would be foolish not to establish the basic truth of his identity before things went much further.

My search threw up a link to an ancestry-site family tree that included his name and those of his siblings and ex-wife, matching what he'd told me. I found a photo of his grandfather – they shared the same extreme nose and dastardly brows – and evidence of the family's connection to the harbourside suburb. (Later, when he opened his wallet in front of me, I glimpsed his licence and a waterfront address.)

The bio line on a fallow Twitter account supported his story, with a list of interests that intrigued me – the environment, politics, science, agriculture and ideas. There was little about his architectural work online. Innocuous: a bus shelter design registered under intellectual property laws. Worrisome: a 2010 news item on an architecture website about his co-director in the practice – he'd been struck off the architect's register for professional misconduct. 

I asked the man about it and he said he'd known for a long time that his partner was a problem. "I stuck by him for too long." He seemed exasperated and I retreated.

He took me away for another weekend, to a little house on a river. I took the tiller on a tinnie and we explored inlets and shorelines. His dog stood with his front paws on the foredeck, sniffing the muddy air. I nearly upended us with an amateur's manoeuvre. He grabbed the tiller and we laughed. I lay on a divan in a boathouse while he cooked us salmon for lunch up in the house. I tried to concentrate on a book but my mind roamed. Boat shed is rather lovely … I texted him. So are you, he texted back. At the end of the weekend I drove home, music blaring, feeling like a teenager.

One day soon after, the man arrived at my place and pulled a toothbrush from his pocket. "I'll leave this here," he said. One night in a whisper he told me he was thinking about things he'd thought past. "Commitment," he said, was a word on his mind. He'd had a fond vision of me with grey hair, he said. For my birthday, he gave me a tiny silver antique box, finely engraved with a floral design. He guided my hands to open the oblong piece. Inside was a slim pencil. "For a writer," he said.

A routine of sorts emerged: in the weeks his children were with their mother, the man and his dog divided their time between his farm and my apartment. His Sydney house was about to be remodelled, he said; everything was in boxes and he was looking for somewhere to rent for the duration. Besides, he said, it held unhappy memories; he'd rather not be there for now. One day he sent me a photo of bush falling into the harbour. My Tintagel (just in the trees there somewhere), he wrote. I didn't want to crowd him. I didn't push to see the house.

He worked more detail into his self-portrait: He sent me photos of a dirt track running through scrubby land. Heading off up the back to slash today, he captioned it, with a comment about the curse of Sifton bush. His dog with sheep. His shack. The front of his ute, axle-deep in mud. My day, he tapped out.

In messages, he shared photos of his children, often in boats: his daughter cuddling the dog on a little wooden boat (we have pulled up after a sail with our seadog); both kids on a large wooden pleasure cruiser he'd told me he was renovating (isn't she a beaut? A little more work, if the rain stops this week). But I observed early-days decorum. I didn't push to meet his sheep or his children or his boats.

The wooden cruiser the man said he was renovating. He also sent photos of his children on the boat.

The wooden cruiser the man said he was renovating. He also sent photos of his children on the boat.

Oh, I was good: I let his dog dig up my garden and I fed him well and often. He liked steak: medium to well-done. He liked fire: he built timber towers in my barbecue and would stand staring into the flames. One day – my God, had I become a Stepford wife!? – I washed his clothes. And, as a new routine started to emerge – his cancellations, mostly via text message, of plans made – I forced back eruptions of anxiety.

When he told me he had to rush to the farm to deal with a bore pumping out mud and wouldn't make it to mine one night, I texted no probs … I'm on deadline anyway. I was sympathetic when a business deal went "tits up"; when he had a reaction to sheep drench – the doctor reckons I've become sensitive to it through overuse; and when he had to keep his children unexpectedly – sorry, there's a kerfuffle with their mother. 

There were so many things to go wrong: school carols and his son's cricket and footy trials and his daughter's tennis. There were meetings with business partners, solicitors, real estate agents and builders, with two men he described as "the Yanks" for whom he said he scouted for Australian investments, and with an agronomist to look at a larger farm he was considering buying. One day, we explored the vast property, opening and closing gates as we drove through it; he pointed out wombat holes and a spot above a lake he thought would be good for a new house.

He spoke endlessly about his plans. And here was another reason for my anxiety: I worried about how little interest he seemed to have in me and how glib he was when I talked about myself or my work.

Just before Christmas 2014, he failed to appear for a lunch at which he was to meet my family and his phone rang out when I tried to call him. I curled up in a ball. The next day, as the sisterhood on my shoulder raged, I sent him a meek text message asking what had happened. God, sorry, he replied. His daughter had had an asthma attack. 

I confided in a friend about the man, the romance, its deficiencies, my apprehensions. She happened to work for The Sydney Morning Herald's investigative team. "Let's do some title searches on him," she suggested. I shook my head. "No, no," I said, and rolled on my chair back to my desk. "I have to try and trust him." He wasn't a story, he was a love affair.

IN EARLY January 2015, the man arrived at my place and pulled a string of pearls from his pocket. I didn't need the pearls, but my need for the message their lustrous charcoal surfaces seemed to emit was acute. The next day we had morning tea with my brother and his family. My nieces and nephew giggled. "You looked so natural together," my sister-in-law told me later.

It was as well that I held elation in check. Lost my dog, he said in a text mid-afternoon the following Friday. He was due to drive up from his farm for a weekend with me. A few hours later, another message pinged. Just got to the vet. Looks like a snake bite. Can't see me driving tonight. I replied suggesting he call me.


My phone remained silent until the following morning; he texted to say his phone connection had been hopeless and he'd just got my message. [She's] on a drip and will be here for a few days, so I may as well come to Sydney. She's very quiet and has her head on my lap. In messages during the afternoon we discussed what I'd cook for dinner. Steak. 

Around 3pm he texted to say he was leaving. It was a three-hour drive. At 9pm another text arrived: he'd decided to get a second opinion from a vet friend in Moss Vale; he and the dog were now there and he'd stay there overnight. Sorry about all of this. He arrived at my place mid-Sunday afternoon. He sat on my couch and his tears welled as he talked about his dog's near-death experience.

Still, anxiety's skin-tingle and stomach-churn took up residence in my body. Was he seeing someone else? What's going on? His stories seemed so insane. 

"Stop stressing," my brother said.

"You're going to ruin it," my brother's wife said.

"It's fine," a girlfriend said. "It's fine."

The psychologist I saw from time to time, a wonderful woman who had helped me cope with my father's death, tried to calm me. She wasn't seeing red flags, she said; the life of a man with two children, a farm and business interests was going to be complicated.

And maybe I was worrying about nothing. My mother visited from interstate and he took us out for dinner. He whisked me away for another weekend at a remote beach; one afternoon, he sat with pencil and architect's scale ruler and sketched out the chalet he wanted to build on a block of land he said he'd bought in the Victorian alps. I met his children over a suburban Thai meal. We had a weekend in Melbourne and dinner at the home of a couple he described as close friends. In late April we spent a week in Tasmania; on the flight across, he gave me an envelope holding three opals.

One morning at breakfast, he lifted his head from The Australian Financial Review and told me former treasurer Wayne Swan wanted to meet him to discuss his ideas. The cogs in my brain clattered as I decided whether to dispute or file the claim. I filed it – the man did seem to have an insider's knowledge of business matters – albeit with raised eyebrows. 

Another day he said quietly, as though he were embarrassed about it, "I have a disgusting amount of money." It had come, he said, from a couple of substantial property deals.

Meanwhile, his farm with the shack had sold, he said, but he hadn't been able to secure a new property. The one we'd explored had been bought, he said. Then a Southern Highlands spread called W------- came up: a mansion, cattle, grapes and olives. He told me he'd made an offer on it. One day, we drove down to see it and, while the man talked to the owner, a well-known fashion designer, his wife showed me through the house. It was vast and grand and I was relieved when we finally went outside and I saw a vista of lake and trees and found a neglected little vegetable parterre.

Would you like the study next to mine, or the one down the corridor?, he asked me soon after. He told me that the property's land would be put into his children's trust fund but the house itself would be in his name – so his ex couldn't cause trouble if I was living with him. Around that time, I was falling asleep one night when I heard what seemed to be a gasping sob; I embraced him; he'd never thought, he said, that he'd find someone who wanted to share a country life with him.

But the sale dragged on for months. It was on, it was off. There was a water rights issue, there were issues with contract inclusions. A neighbour from an adjacent property had barged in, claiming he had an option for first right of refusal. The neighbour was going bust. The neighbour was buying a sliver of land off the estate. The neighbour was buying the lot. And the man was full of doubt: he knew nothing about wine or olive oil, the house wasn't his style, he was a follower of the "tiny house" movement.

For months, it was all he talked about. I listened. I was not from this world of deals and numbers with many zeros. Perhaps this was the way it was for these people. But nothing made sense; his stories shifted and contradicted themselves. I told a friend that sometimes I wondered if the man was a fantasist. 

One day, I asked him how a farmer's hands could be so soft. "A grazier, not a farmer," he corrected me. He pointed to sunspots on his hands and said he wore gloves when he worked. He raised the subject again some days later. "I've been thinking about why my hands are soft," he said. "It's because of the lanolin in the wool." But you wear gloves, I said. "You can't wear gloves when you're working with sheep," he replied.

And the cancellations continued. Towards the middle of the year, he finally invited me for dinner at his Sydney house. I was barely surprised when, around lunch, he called to say his daughter was unwell – another asthma attack – and we'd have to postpone. My instincts were howling at me that something was awry. 

I bored friends witless rehashing each incident. Over sushi, one asked me how long I was going to stay with the man. But I'd lost my sense of self and reason and was barely functional. Around that time, I heard a radio program about domestic violence. "I was addicted to hope," a victim said, to explain why she stayed so long.

On a Saturday morning in October 2015, I stood in a toilet cubicle at Sydney airport, shaking and leaning against the walls for support. A plane I needed to be on was in the final stages of boarding. Close friends were to be married that afternoon in Townsville and the man and I were meant to be there. He wasn't answering his phone. I had no idea where he was. I flew without him, huddled in a window seat, choking, sobbing.

I DO an excellent curled-up ball. I know just how to place a pillow over my head so it blocks light and noise and reality. In times of personal crisis, I am an excellent faster. Any food other than ice-cream is of no interest to me whatsoever. I am always happy to see my scales at these times. But it is unwise to hold the pillow-over-head position for long.

My sushi friend got me upright. He brought coffee and pastries and was polite enough not to comment on my pyjamas. "Steph," he said. "Enough!" I emailed the man and told him I was done. That night, a Melbourne friend sat on the phone for hours with me as, at my laptop in Sydney, I became a journalist again and the man became the story.

On one of our first dates, he'd dropped a clue. Then, I'd decided to trust rather than snoop. To protect identities, I can't reveal more, but now the clue led me to another woman's public social media accounts. Another girlfriend.

She seemed to have been dating the man for a year or two before he contacted me, and he continued to see her after he met me. Her Facebook and Instagram accounts show they took similar outings to those he and I had: restaurant meals, a Tasmanian trip, drives in his ute down bush roads. In some photographs, they're holding hands. She looks like an excellent woman. We have friends in common. Sometimes we share the same links and we both love a glass of champagne.

The man went away with her in January 2015. Storms threatened, but at the expensive Central Coast resort, Bells at Killcare, he enjoyed a swim and quiet time on their veranda – reading the book I'd given him for his birthday, Don Watson's The Bush. Later, in the Hunter Valley, they stopped at wineries and a pub. It must have been a nuisance for him to keep me informed about his snake-bitten dog's wellbeing. Or perhaps it was sport: through the days they were north of Sydney, and I was at home in Sydney fretting about his dog and his honesty, he sent me 14 text messages spinning a bush yarn about the unfolding veterinary emergency in which he said he was immersed south of Sydney.

The man's stories were never simple little lies: instead they were sturdy things – minutely choreographed, episodic and sprinkled with wry humour and elements of truth. And multiple times, they matched occasions when the woman's social media accounts revealed he was with her. 

One afternoon in June, for example, he had texted to say he couldn't see me that night as planned – a problem with the babysitter. Around 8pm, he texted to say he was with his sister at the fashionable city restaurant where my brother is the sommelier. My brother had been looking after them well, he said, adding that his sister had needed to confide in him and a neighbour was watching his kids. Bewildered, I called my brother. He was cross with me. "Of course it was his sister," he snapped.

Scrolling through the other woman's social media feeds, I found a photo match for the date. Alongside a photo of a basket of dumplings, she named the restaurant and thanked it for the complimentary food and Veuve Clicquot. My brother realises now that, as he guided them through the rowdy space to a table, the woman was ahead when the man quietly told him that she was his sister. A risky game, but what fun.

You'll be wanting to know what fable he told to explain why he missed the Townsville wedding: he offered the first chapter the night before our flight when he claimed his ex-wife had failed to collect his son from a school disco, and developed the plot over the following days with a family crisis. Sorry for not keeping my drama at bay, he texted. 

The other woman's photos show they were enjoying scallops at a northern beaches restaurant while I lay in a ball in my Townsville hotel room, sick to the stomach and wondering how I'd make it to the wedding.

I've had better nights than that which I spent online discovering the extent of the man's mendacity while, on the phone from Melbourne, my friend kept me calm. But the process of discovery proved to have healing qualities; it would be beneficial, I decided, to continue the therapy.

When I finally searched the public record, as my colleague had suggested months earlier, I found that the name of the man's ex-wife was on the title deeds of the harbourside house: I believe he couldn't show the home to me because he no longer lived there. Then I discovered something else: the cheat I had dated for 16 months was also an undischarged bankrupt with a criminal record.

INTERNET SEARCHES reveal only so much. Phone calls are more illuminating. The nice woman on the end of the phone at the country abattoir where my ex-boyfriend claimed to have his sheep slaughtered looked up her books but couldn't find any record of him or his sheep. The head of the private equity firm at which he'd claimed to have worked in his Savile Row suits said my ex-boyfriend had brought a joint-venture proposition to the firm years before but, in the middle of discussions, oddly, disappeared. He was never employed by the firm.

The architect who had been a co-director in my ex-boyfriend's architectural company, and who I'd read was suspended for professional misconduct, had a great deal more to say. Let's call the architect Peter. 

"He's a compulsive liar," Peter said, when I reached him on the phone. "He can't accept failure, so he will hide and hide things from you until he can't hide them anymore." Peter says he was best man at my ex-boyfriend's wedding. He worked alongside him for years before his true character became clear.

In 2008, my ex-boyfriend used a forged document. A subsequent NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal hearing into the case nearly ruined Peter, who was the nominated architect responsible for the firm's work. The tribunal found that Peter's handling of the matter was unsatisfactory and he was banned from applying to re-register as an architect for two years. (He regained his registration in 2016.) "It was devastating," Peter says. "We were like brothers."

In the course of the hearing, it emerged that my ex-boyfriend had never been registered as an architect in NSW and likely had never even qualified as an architect. In 2011, three years after he used a forged development application, my ex-boyfriend stood and faced a magistrate in Manly Local Court. The magistrate didn't buy his stories and gave him a two-year good behaviour bond.

And there were more shocks: he had been concealing debt: as a result, in 2009, both men were declared bankrupt. After a set period of three years Peter was discharged from bankruptcy. But my ex-boyfriend's furtive proclivities continued. He failed to disclose crucial pieces of financial information to his bankruptcy trustee and is still listed as an undischarged bankrupt. He is not due to be discharged until 2018.

A man who is bankrupt faces some impediments in the pursuit of a high-net-worth lifestyle. Generally, he is not in the business of buying and selling properties in the Southern Highlands of NSW or the Victorian alps, or of renovating expensive wooden boats. But a skilled tyre-kicker with delusions of grandeur, a quick mind and an amiable manner can pretend he is.

One Saturday during our relationship, he said he'd take me to see the wooden boat that day; the builders were just about finished. Through the afternoon, in front of me, he made three phone calls to inquire about the work's progress. At the end of each call, he said the builders weren't ready for us; another couple of hours, he said, explaining in some detail the challenges of a particular bit of joinery. 

A man scrambling for false status and self needs to have a few tricks up his sleeve: I can see now that the calls that day were pure pantomime. No one was on the other end of the phone. While we were together, I never saw the boat. He never owned it. 

On a sultry morning early in January 2016, some weeks after I'd told him I was done, and as I adjusted to my own private post-truth world, I decided I wanted to see it. It's moored at the Point Piper marina, down the road from the prime minister's harbourside home. Someone going into the members-only marina had left the gate open and I slipped in after them. 

The boat is beautiful. She's made of mahogany. "She is considered to be one out of five most classic motor yachts in the world," reads a marine sales company's ad for it. The asking price is $135,000. I know now that she's been on the market for years.

THERE ARE things I still don't know about my ex-boyfriend: I don't know how he found the money for our weekends away or our restaurant meals or the tips he gave to taxi drivers. I don't know if he gave investment advice to "Yanks". I don't know if he has ever laid a hand on a sheep, or slept well in a shack after a day's labour on his own land. I don't know where he lived. I don't know how difficult he made his ex-wife's life. I can only imagine.

I do know, though, that photographs can lie, too. Take that shot he sent me in 2015 of his ute bogged in a creek with the caption, my day. Google's reverse image search function unearthed the complete shot from a Land Rover owners' forum: my ex-boyfriend had cropped out the central body of the vehicle and two blokes standing looking at it. He was not one of the two. The photo was taken in Queensland in 2012. The vehicle was the same model and make, but the full picture showed it didn't have the blue-striped doors of my ex-boyfriend's ute. He'd embellished his self-portrait as a rugged man of the bush with a doctored photograph of someone else's ute, someone else's day.

We had no plans on the day he sent me the photo. He didn't need to think of an excuse for cancelling. It was a gratuitous folly. Or a missive from a hollow man lost.

In texts, the man embellished himself as a rugged country man. The writer later found this image was another man's car, another man's day.

In texts, the man embellished himself as a rugged country man. The writer later found this image was another man's car, another man's day.  

WHEN WE start these things, in that gloriously alive state of vulnerability and excitement and hope, we can see so few pieces of the puzzle. We are primed to believe in the goodness of people, and truth as the default position. We want so much that we turn our heads away from the flaws and the oddities. Don't look, we think, they do not matter. We are complicit. And once immersed in intimacy, extrication can seem impossible. This is the human condition in the effort of love.

My ex-boyfriend conscripted me to play a bit part in his chimerical life. He was the magnificent lead character in his own Neverland, trapped in a pathology a lifetime in the making, enslaved by his own wild needs.

I remember now, a night at home. I'd cooked a meal. We sat on my couch. The television was a background hum. We sat close. He asked me a question. "Can I put my head on your lap and will you stroke my forehead?" 

Lifeline: 13 11 14

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Source: This article was published smh.com.au By Stephanie Wood

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