Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Google For Snooping - Digging Up Deleted Pages

When the Obama team launched change.gov I was impressed. I especially liked the agenda section of the site, which outlined in describe problem and present plan format, what the Obama team hopes to accomplish.

A day or two after the change.gov launched, I returned to it to show someone part of the agenda. Only, the agenda pages were, and still are, gone.

Does this mean the Obama team has tossed out their plans? Or, did some overzealous web developer publish more than they wanted to have shown? Regardless, this has been nagging at me - I know those pages existed at one point, but now their gone. Where they ever really there?

Of course, Google knows the answer to this. Ahhh, the mighty and powerful Google. Google, as awesome as it is, has a lag between when site contents change and when Google knows about this. This is known as the Google cache, and if you ask nicely, Google will cough this up stale data for you.

Here's how I snooped around to confirm that the agenda did, at one time, exist.

I searched Google for pages containing the keyword "agenda", but limited my search to just the change.gov website. To do this, I entered exactly the following in Google:

  agend site:change.gov

I was greeted with the following results:

As you can see from the results, at one point there were pages named change.gov/agenda/healthcare/, change.gov/agenda/urbanpolicy/ and so on.

Clicking on one of these links takes you to a page with the following message:

In other words, the page no longer exists. Or, it exists and we're just not allowed to see it.

But, we're not quite out of luck. If you click back to the Google results and click on Cached next to the link, you are taken to a page that looks like:

Google is showing us the last known copy it has of the page. Which just happens to have the text that's now been deleted. It includes a warning at the top of the page:

This is Google's cache of http://change.gov/agenda/defense/. It is a snapshot of the page as it appeared on Nov 8, 2008 06:13:55 GMT. The current page could have changed in the meantime.

Here's a snapshot of the menu I saw the first day showing all the agenda items they had pages on:

So there you have it - proof that I'm not crazy, and that the Obama team has yanked significant content from their site. What this doesn't tell us, of course, is Why?. That's probably left up to other bloggers to tackle. Personally, I liked the content there and felt it set a tone of openness. But what do I know?

I do give the Obama team credit though, they are keeping up the blog and using it as a way to publish press conferences, favorable interviews and anything else they'd like to share. Hopefully, they'll continue to publish there.

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