Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Internet Myth: Watch What You Post Because Search Will Reveal Everything Forever

Posted by Tom Foremski - March 3, 2009

People are advised to watch what they post or upload because it might come back to haunt them. Drunken photos, drag costumes, sexist or racist jokes, etc could cost you a job, a relationship, or damage your reputation in the future.

The warning is that if it goes on the Internet, Google, in its earnest desire to index all of the world's information, will index all of your embarrassing stuff too. A simple search will easily reveal a checkered past.

But is this really true?

I Googled "Tom Foremski" and came up with a search result of 135,000 links. Each page showed 10 links related to my name. I wanted to see how far I could go, what would be the very last of the 135,000 search results? But after 55 pages, or 552 links, Google could show me no more, and I got this message:

In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to the 552 already displayed. If you like, you can repeat the search with the omitted results included.

So I clicked on "repeat the search with the omitted results included." This time I only got 20 pages of results or 196 links. I got less instead of more.
Either way, the most web pages I could find with "Tom Foremski" was 552. Yet Google had indexed 135,000 pages with my name on them. This was just 0.4 percent of the total.

If someone were checking up on me, they would only be able to see 0.4 percent of everything on the Internet that is indexed "Tom Foremski."

So while it may be true that the Internet will store everything forever, it is not true that an employer or anyone else, will be able to Google you and easily find things you wish weren't there.

My advice to anyone that is worried that others might judge them for youthful or other indiscretions, is to make sure to be very active on the Internet, because only a small fraction will be accessible if you get Googled. Anything bad will be diluted into the long tail of you.

Of course, in the future Google might be replaced by superior search engine that will provide access to all of its index. But even then, slogging through tens of thousands of links would discourage the most diligent of employers.

However, watch what you post is still good advice.

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