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Apparently the page in the top spot now hasn't been updated since: 2011.07.08

It now only consists of ads, a twitter feed, and a "Abba-da-dabba-da-dabba-dabba Dat’s all folks!" line.

So what if Googlebot thought HN was dead? Why would it opt to show a "more dead" page in place of it?

I think you're fibbing.

The other page isn't dead, they can access it.

yes - it looks more like google had been changing their algorithm recently - in favor of older sites , versus the content -

and it didnt turn out quite well ...

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