It was an unfortunate incident, Matt Cutts later said. A single line of beta code that was inexplicably included in the main ranking algorithm. A bug so small, that in the vastness of the overall code one could practically suggest that it did not exist. Terry Henfleet certainly did not know this bug existed, yet it was to alter his life forever.
Terry was a 30 something Sheffield man, with a keen interest in the web. He kept his finger on the online pulse but he was no geek. He was a dad who dabbled online with websites and blogs for some mild relief from the stresses of the day.
The fateful day arrived. It was the day after Terry had written about his football club, Sheffield Wednesday, gaining promotion from League one at the expense of bitter rivals, Sheffield United. He had pushed it via his facebook and twitter accounts, so expected a bit of banter in the comments of the blog entry between rival fans.
What Terry did not expect was over 1,500 comments, and some on the more inane blog entries such as "Fed Cohan his bottle at 2am and couldn't sleep afterwards" and "Meeting Debbie for lunch today" - these were not your common or garden spam comments either. These were valid comments from real people.
Terry then went on to check his emails. Flooded. That was why his blackberry had been going off all night downstairs. Over 200 emails, including one from his webhost stating he was 23 gigabytes over his hosting allowance for the month. It was the 6th of May, surely a mistake. At best Terry's websites took up a few GB's of bandwidth for the entire month.
Terry needed a coffee. He wasn't a heavy drinker, but had indulged a little given his teams promotion yesterday and had a mild hangover. He was also confused. He needed to get his head together. With a strong sweet coffee in his hand, he started reading the emails one at a time. These were again not spam, but people asking him questions about what he had written. People sharing his concerns about his young son not feeding properly, about his moaning about financial situation, about longing for a better paid job. Terry was being confided in by all walks of life who wanted to talk to him. He had somehow become famous, but how?
The answer was all about something Terry had learned was called pagerank. PageRank was what google had used to publically rank websites between zero and ten, with zero being unrated or penalised, and ten being upper most authority sites. Pagerank was now no longer being updated outwardly, but Google still used this method to rank sites in its index. Email after email Terry was receiving were budding search engine enthusiasts asking how he had achieved a pagerank of 100.
The next two days Terry analysed his website byte by byte. Checked the sites backlinking to him, even posted questions about how such a thing could have happened. Everyone was flummoxed. By rights, his tiny site should not be ranking high for any search term, let alone some of the most hotly competed for terms around. For a moment he took his mind away from the problem long enough to embrace real life for a moment, the postman delivered a letter. A utilities bill. Great he thought, another bill. Then Terry had an idea. Forget how it happened, it is time to make some money.
Terry set his mind to monetising his website, and so he signed up for some affiliate marketing. He was about to become an uber affiliate, among other things......