From what I've been able to gather from information around the web, SearchKing was set up specifically as a site to drive traffic, dangerously close, imho, to the definition of a link farm.
To be fair, Massa explains his side in a press release:
SearchKing began business as an Internet search engine and web hosting company in 1997, approximately a year before Google's inception. In August 2002, PR Ad Network began placing text ads for businesses on web sites with a high PageRank from Google, thereby becoming one of very few competitors to Google's advertising service. According to the lawsuit, once Google became aware of this, it lowered SearchKing's PageRank and the ranking of the web sites it hosts.
PageRank (PR) is a Google-developed system of determining the value of a particular website. The PR of a site, which ranges from one to 10 (10 being the highest), is displayed publicly on each site visited through the use of the Google tool bar, which can be down loaded to any computer for free, PR value is determined several ways, including calculating the number of web pages (links) pointing to a particular page and how relevant they are to the topic at hand.
Now, this from Google's information for webmasters:
2. Why does my page's rank keep changing?
We update our index every four weeks. Each time we update our database of web pages, our index invariably shifts: We find new sites, we lose some sites, and sites ranking may change. Your rank naturally will be affected by changes in the ranking of other sites. You can be assured that no one at Google has hand adjusted the results to decrease the ranking of one site or increase the ranking of another. Google's order of results is automatically determined by several factors, including our PageRank algorithm. Please check out our Why Use Google page for more information on how this works.
You may want to check and see if the number of other sites linking to your URL has changed. This is the single biggest factor in determining what sites are indexed by Google, as we find most pages when our robots crawl the web and jump from page to page via hyperlinks. To find out who links to your site, use Google's link: tool.
Is Massa simply upset that Google's algorithm caught him breaking one of their rules, or is he insinuating that Google hand adjusted his site's ranking?
Google makes it very clear what kind of activity they don't like to see. Among the actions they frown on are when webmasters, "Participate in link exchanges for the sole purpose of increasing your ranking in search engines." This sounds a lot like what Massa was trying to do when he attempted to sell advertising based on Google's PR value of his site.
If Massa's PR has dropped, and Google says they don't hand modify the listings, could it simply be a matter of him losing PR (like many others) for trying to openly do something Google frowns upon? I'm sure a penalty for being in a link farm is coded into the algorithm in some manner. (Not to mention the fact that the September update was big enough to get a mention on Slashdot and Wired.)
What is the definition of a link farm? Internet.com describes it as, "The process of exchanging reciprocal links with Web sites in order to increase search engine optimization. The idea behind link farming is to increase the number of sites that link to yours because search engines such as Google rank sites according to, among other things, the quality and quantity of sites that link to yours."
Was Massa merely attempting to cash in on the hard work that has gone into making Google what it is today? Here's a look at Searchking's submission page as of posting: "Link Popularity - Increase your site's link popularity NOW! From just $29.00!"
Personally, I try to follow Google's advice - build a content rich site for human visitors and let Googlebot do what it does best without trying to 'manipulate' the algorithm. I'm a staunch believer that if you have good content, the visitors will come. As your site gets richer and increases in depth, people across the web will willingly link to it, which Googlebot will notice and give you your props for all your hard work.
Webmaster Dos and Don'ts - (From Google)
First appearance on SearchKing? - (From WebmasterWorld - 7/12/00)
PageRank For Sale - (PANDIA - 8/24/02)
Overture Sues Google - (InternetNews.com - 4/5/02)