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The Google Bankroll

I first gained access to the Internet around 1992, before the web was as ubiquitous as it is today. We downloaded our first copies of Netscape about three years later. Since the early days of the web I’ve played with writing web pages. Fast forward to 1999 when I set up a web page and hosted it on my computer using Microsoft Personal Web Server (PWS).

Soon after getting it up and running I saw another site with their own Google search on it. At the time Google wasn’t the all encompassing search it is today, a few of us geeks started using google as a verb, but half the population wasn’t aware if it yet. The chance to put a Google search widget on your own website was about as cool as I could get. Not only was the ability to place the code to get the search tool available, but there was an affiliate program, where Google would pay you something like $.03 for each search performed.

I started using the search tool on my local computer by default to increase that $.03 commission. My web site started growing in popularity and I was getting plenty of external searches. Things went well at first and by the end of the first quarter I got a check for ten bucks or so.

At this point I started adding the search tool to anything I could, my ISP’s personal website, my Geocities website, the website to my former employer (a mortgage company), and an internal team site on the corporate intranet. When I told a few people at work about my world domination plan starting $.03 at a time for each search they started using my search widget. They laughed at my world domination plan though. The next quarter I got a check from Google for about thirty bucks.

My plan was in place, so there was little more that I needed to do, except make sure all my external internet pages were indexed by the major search engines. After that I started to bore myself with earning tiny amounts of money at a time and focused on other things.

At the time the hottest thing going on was Napster the index sharing MP3 tool. It was nothing to see a TB of music data online at a time. Unfortunately with their popularity they became a target for the Recording Industry Association of American (RIAA) and Metallica. Some bands started feeding fake MP3 files into the mix to annoy all the downloaders.

I started looking to Usenet’s binary newsgroups for music and software about this time. I learned the posters were obsessed with making sure only quality MP3’s free of pops and hisses and at optimum bitrates. The other premium Usenet had over Napster was posters posted the full album at a time and music didn’t drop off half way through the download.

I replaced everything in my collection with crappy bitrates and completed a bunch of collections. At this point it was just easier to download than it was to rip my own CD’s. My collection was up to almost 25GB of MP3s. I found a great collection of live performances by a few of my favorite groups.

I was working at The University of Phoenix – Online doing Internet technical support, I even built their first spam server (I didn’t know it at the time). They had me slap tother a PC and install Windows 2000 Server on it. I turned in my completed project, and another guy loaded a spam email package. They even had a separate T-1 with a dynamic IP address, so the rest of the company wouldn’t get blacklisted.


Well, the company prohibited us from storing MP3s on company property, especially after one co-worker got caught storing every episode of South Park on the server for the slower nights. One of the guys at work was surfing his home PWS which contained his entire MP3 collection. PWS was a way around the company policy if you still wanted to listen to your music collection and didn’t want to burn everything to CD. I got home from work that evening and made an adjustment to PWS so it would browse my MP3 directories.

A month goes on, then two, it becomes more of a pain to click and stream each individual song. I burned a few CDs of MP3 files and went that way with my task of listening to music at work. Another month goes by and I get another envelope from Google with my quarterly check. I opened it up and discovered Google sent me a check for over $6,700! It had to be a mistake or at least a typo. I logged on to my affiliate account to check my stats. They went through the roof.

I checked my MP3 file-serving computer, which I hardly touched because it ran well and still served up my website without problems. It was being absolutely pounded with queries and teetering on the verge of a crash. My MP3 collection was still on PWS and being served to the entire world. I never figured out how it was discovered – perhaps a port scan? I knew people could see my public web pages, but I thought my MP3 directory was hidden and unlisted.

I called my work buddy Rich up and told him my good fortune. He didn’t believe a word I said regarding the giant Google check. I scanned it, send it, and he became a believer. Within a week half the guys at work had their own Google affiliate account and were adding it to anything webpage they could fine. They also copied me when I became a minister for free at the Universal Life Church's website. My affiliate search tool was removed from the team site, because too many people theirs to be listed on the team site. I had to keep a secret between Rich and I, that the MP3 collection was what caused the real traffic.

I sent that check into my bank account faster than spare parts can fall off a space shuttle! The bank took its sweet-ass time clearing the check. When it was cleared I paid off my credit card and car ASAP. Then I was off to Fry’s Electronics to buy parts to build a new AMD based computer (AMD was beginning to gain ground on Intel). The rest went towards wedding stuff.

I checked my affiliate account and the number looked even better than the same time the previous quarter. I could quit my job and cash Google checks for a career at this rate. I turned off the directory with the MP3 for a short term, then greed got me and I put it back online. A month goes by and I’m a legend at work because of the check from Google. The work guys are all checking their affiliate accounts several times a day.

Then I get an email from Google that the traffic looked suspicious and they canceled my account and would deny any earnings that had accumulated that pay period. My dream of world domination through searching Google was over. There was even a comment about trying to recover previous money. Thank God they never went down that road.

All of the guys at work want to cash in, but weren’t getting the traffic I was at the height of my short Google career. They started to employ JavaScript and other ingenious ways to automate the searching without the actual legit traffic. One of the guys alerted me, Google suddenly canceled the entire program. Their reasoning was Google had finally become a player and didn’t need this particular type of promotion anymore. I can’t help but to think it was because so many people at work started really scamming the system.

I tried a few other affiliate programs, but nothing came close. AdSense, also by Google, came out years later. I finally signed up for an account, and should have a few of those ads on this page. AdSense works different; Google pays only on click-through, when people travel to the advertiser’s site. They have strict rules on the site owner clicking ads on his/her own site, or requesting people to click those ads on purpose. I do encourage everyone to look through the targeted ads, and if somebody clicks that’s fine with me.