Googlewhacking: a great example of digital ephemera

By 2005 it was almost tool late - a 'whack' was almost impossible
By 2005 it was almost tool late – a  string of ‘whacks’ was virtually impossible

Hands up if you know what a Googlewhack is?

I’ve recently re-aquainted myself with the term after discovering the 2005 book “Dave Gorman’s Googlewhack Adventure”, during some pre-Christmas house painting (an ancient and compulsory tradition my wife assures me).

Basically a Googlewhack is what happens when you put two words in to Google, click search, and it returns A SINGLE SEARCH RESULT!

I know, sounds crazy doesn’t it.

Google pointing you to only one website that contains those two words……. surely……. there must be at least two search results: One for the actual website containing the uncommon worlds; and a Second one, an advertisement selling you something….. (things have changed a lot since 2005).

Where did Googlewhacking come from? It has its origins way back in 2002 with Gary Stock, who started to identify pairs of words that produced a single search result from Google, and developed the term ‘Googlewhack’. The helpful Gary then created the website and the ‘Whack Stack’ for like-minded people to post their whacks.

An interesting point to note here is the very act of posting your Googlewhack online immediately ends it’s status as a Googlewhack – there are now two places on the world-wide web where a Google search could find those two words. If that’s not ephemeral, (something that is used or enjoyed for only a short time) I don’t know what is.

There were rules about what makes a Googlewhack and all sorts of derivative activities like discovering Googlewhackblatts developed. These are single words that returned only one search result. Activities like posting the Googlewhackblatt backwards on a website to avoid it being detected by Google developed, and the uses of elgooG (a backwards Google search) to find them. As strange as this all seems it is true…. (apparently)…..I read it here on Wikipedia.

And when did Googlewhacking end? The website went offline in 2009. However, by the time I read the Dave Gorman Googlewhack Adventure book in 2005 it was incredibly difficult to find just one whack, let alone the unbroken chain of ten he was aiming for. Apart from the act of posting  your Googlewhack online removing it’s status, other factors worked against this being something with a long-term future. The fact that people were putting ever more information online, every minute of every day, and the Google robots were getting ever more efficient at logging the information on websites, the days of a Googlewhack surviving were numbered. As internet ephemera go, it’s not a bad innings though.

If you fancy a bit of fun yourself, try putting some of the words into Google that transported Dave Gorman around the world on his Googlewhack Adventure, some of my favourites:

  • Coelacanth Sharpener
  • Pomegranate Filibusters
  • Acehigh Lawnmowers
As a Smart Car driver I think i need to switch to Opera
As a Smart Car driver, I think i need to switch to Opera

Other Internet Search Engines Are Available. I should point out here that Google isn’t the only search engine that you can use. Back in the mid 2000’s there were a number of alternatives available.

The introduction to the Dave Gorman book talks very precisely about ‘the internet search engine’, just in case you get mixed up with something else.

Funny to think that 10 years on and the ubiquitous term for searching anything on the internet is to ‘google it’.  I know saying that might get me into trouble with enthusiasts of other search engines – so I have included this graphic of ‘if web browsers were a form of transport’ to hopefully appease anyone I’ve upset (sorry).

Some final thoughts on Ephemera…..  This is a word I only learnt in my mid 20’s, before the internet and fancy search engines were invented. This was in the context of wetlands, streams and ponds that only existed for a short period of time when water table was high following the winter rainfall. The abundance of water supported diverse variety of plants and wildlife to flourish during that period, and they were dormant for the rest of the year.

It does however feel like a term well suited to the internet age. Apart from Googlewhack, what other internet activities have come, and gone, in very short space of time?  ( I hesitate to mention Google Flu at this point.)

So, What’s the PONT?

  1. Some things are ephemeral, they need the right environmental conditions and exist for a relatively short time. It happens in nature, why shouldn’t it happen on the internet?
  2. Ephemera, by definition, don’t leave a lot of evidence they existed. One of the benefits of the digital age is that they can be recorded and preserved for future generations to enjoy.
  3. There is more than one search engine available – Like Firefox, or Safari. See the graphic above, and enjoy this Firefox joke.










Picture Source :  Internet Explorer a ‘dead horse’, ha ha ha.


About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

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