Google’s Authorship Fail: How Truman Capote Was Credited As A NYT Writer 28 Years After His Death

google-g-logo-2012If you happened to do certain abortion-related searches in the past few days, you might’ve been surprised to see the late Truman Capote getting Google+ Authorship credit for an article from The New York Times.

What makes it odd, of course, is that Capote died in 1984. He wrote numerous classics that showed up on the Times bestseller list but, as far as I know, he never actually wrote for the Times itself — and he certainly didn’t write an article that was first published in 2010.

Capote also died a couple decades too soon to have a Google+ account, which makes this search result — shared with us by Times columnist Noam Cohen — all the more unusual.


Famed writer Truman Capote is getting Google+ Authorship credit on that article.

So, how’d it happen? Let’s unravel it a bit and see how Google’s aggressive efforts to associate web content with Google+ accounts can sometimes go very wrong.

About That New York Times Article

The New York Times published an article called The New Abortion Providers on July 14, 2010.

The author is listed as Emily Bazelon, and a quick Google search tells us that she’s a senior editor for Slate and a Times contributor. She has a Wikipedia page and a Knowledge Graph box, but the Knowledge Graph doesn’t connect to her Google+ account, perhaps because

There’s no mention of Truman Capote in the article itself, but at the end of it there’s this:

article-bio-capote It’s the only mention on the page of Capote’s name: “Emily Bazelon, a contributing writer, is a senior editor at Slate and the Truman Capote law-and-media fellow at Yale Law School.”

Is that enough to connect Bazelon’s article to a long-deceased author? Yes, when someone has also made a Google+ account for said author.

Truman Capote on Google+

Though he’s been dead for almost 30 years, Truman Capote has a Google+ page. Don’t know who created it or when, but there it is. (UPDATE, 4:10 pm: Google has deleted the Truman Capote page on Google+; that link above now leads to a 404 error.)

It also has no signs of Google Authorship — there’s no fake mention that Capote was a Times writer or anything like that. It doesn’t really mention anything about Capote’s writings.

So what we have is a case of Google being overly aggressive in looking to connect online content (the NYT article) with a Google+ account. It’s similar to what AJ Kohn discovered a couple months ago, when Google was correctly tying my own Marketing Land articles to my Google+ account, even though I hadn’t yet added my Marketing Land author page in my account settings.

But, in this case, Google is ignoring Bazelon’s Google+ account and instead connecting it to the Truman Capote page, all based on a single mention in the author’s bio at the end of the article.

Google’s Algorithmic Authorship

Bottom line: Google isn’t relying solely on authors to setup Google+ Authorship, they’re creating authorship connections algorithmically. A Google spokesperson confirmed that for us in this statement, provided last night via email, when we alerted them to the Capote/NYT connection: (added emphasis is mine)

“We want to help users see who’s writing the content they find on the web and engage directly with authors. To that end, earlier this year we began algorithmically identifying authors in some cases. We still encourage authors to add explicit authorship markup and verify their email addresses to provide the most comprehensive and accurate data.”

This situation has now been fixed. If you search Google for the Times article, you won’t see Capote’s avatar and Google+ account connected to it. But as Google continues to try auto-associating articles and Google+ pages, it seems safe to assume we’ll see more cases like this one in the future.

It’s easy to blame Google for mistakes like this, but it wouldn’t have happened if the Times and the article’s author had correctly established an authorship connection. That’s the main takeaway for publishers: Setup authorship yourself, or risk Google trying to do it algorithmically, and getting it really wrong.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Features: Analysis | Google: Authorship | Google: Google+ | Google: Rich Snippets | Google: Web Search | Top News


About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • Kevin Marks

    This shows Google’s dogmatic insistence on having a g+ account to show authorship is misfiring, and ignores author pages on the site that the article is from, or other sites.

  • Michael Martinez

    Good thing Google has kept Authorship as a PILOT PROGRAM that is not yet generally released for the public. That gives them time to fix these kinds of errors without incurring undue criticism from people who pay too much attention to Google’s every little nuances.

  • jimbeetle

    The Times or any other publisher shouldn’t have to do anything. Six mentions of Bazelon’s name in the source, three in the form of “By Emily Bazelon,” and Google picks up on one mention of Truman Capote? What are all those PhDs doing?

  • Durant Imboden

    Actually, it shows the opposite: If Google Authorship relied solely on authorship markup, this mistake wouldn’t have occurred.

    As for Google’s relying on algorithms to deduce authorship in some cases, that isn’t necessarily a bad idea. Authors of books, magazine articles, etc. might be delighted to get a Google AuthorRank boost from their books, magazine articles, and Web writings that were published without authorship markup. The concept seems reasonable enough, even if the implementation needs refining.

  • Mathias Philippe

    Thanks to have spotted this Matt. It’s astonishing to see Google algorithm relying on a so small “signal” to credit an author.
    It also shows that the first policy of refusing fake names for Google+ accounts is long dead.

  • Damu

    Good find which resulted in Capote’s google plus account suspended.

  • Paul Gailey

    “not yet generally released for the public” – how so? I thought we had this exchange before.

  • Paul Gailey

    Why not, if you’re an author, become pragmatic and markup your identity so precisely to avoid inadvertent misattribution?

  • Greekgeek

    This bug has only been true for a few months. Before that time, my authorship was correct. Now, if I mention Seth Godin in an article, his face replaces mine, my article is credited to him, and the links go to his profile not mine.

    Most of the bloggers and online writers I know are running into this problem now. Not all with Seth Godin, of course, but it’s especially a hazard when writing on a multi-author site where one author is better known than the rest. Seth Godin tends to get the Google credit for much of the better content written on Squidoo by others, while Paul Edmondson is getting credit for other Hubpage writers’ articles. Yet on our own blogs, which earn far less, we at least can be assured of our authorship displaying correctly — usually — even if we mention someone else’s name or link to someone else’s article.

    I really don’t understand why Google has started overriding validated authorship codes in favor of any stray name or link included in body content. It did not do this in 2011. Sooner or later it’s going to land itself in hot water by attributing an article to someone the article’s author is taking a stand against,

  • Greekgeek

    Some of us have been reporting this glitch to Google’s webmaster forums for months. I got a “We’ll look into it” response. I’ve been hoping that Searchengineland would call attention to this problem, since little Whos in Whoville can’t grt much help in matters like this. SEL, be a Horton for us, please!

  • Deni Gewete

    Looks interesting, just a short opinion that the big G is not perfect at all.

  • Unbound Marketing

    You’d think the NYT would set up their authorship properly! Interesting the way Google picked up on it though.

  • roseberry

    This has been happening on a site i work on for months and I have to email every so often to tell them that the person they have linked is not actually the author. The eventually fix the issue, but it’s very frustrating. But even if they did guess right, what if I don’t want my listing linked to Google plus? They give no option. I’m usually not one to jump on the “Google is force promoting it’s products” bandwagon, but in this case that’s exactly what they’re doing, whether you want them to or not. In effect their associating Google Plus with other big brands (like NYT in this case) and NYT can’t stop them from doing so. When a user sees this picture and profile next to the NYT listing and not others, I think they would reasonably assume some partnership or willing association on NYT’s part. Again, I’m fine with Google doing this by default. Not fine with not giving publishers a way to opt out.

  • cjvannette

    You’ve always been able to create a G+ account with a fake name. You
    cannot, however, create a G+ account with an *obviously* fake name. “Awesome Dude” would probably be immediately flagged, because “awesome” and “dude” are not names. “Truman” and “Capote,” however, are.

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