Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Force of Goole

When people talk about Internet Binging, they aren't talking about using the world's fourth most popular internet search engine. According to @ruskin147's BBC Radio Four documentary The Force of Google this evening, people don't even use the generic phrase "searching the internet". They use the word "Google". I think I heard someone say that the word is now more popular than the word "eggs".

Rory discussed several ways that hard-boiled Google poaches Internet business, while scrambling our brains.

1.  Business is dependent on the caprice of Google ranking. Rory talks to the owner of a fly fishing company, which gets a significant proportion of his business via Google. When Google changed its algorithm in 2013, his webpage dropped from page one to page seven - almost equivalent to a commercial death penalty. Then inexplicably it climbed back again - the death penalty reprieved. Readers with long memories will remember the story of BMW (Feb 2006), which was banished from Google for three days in 2006.
 
2. In trying to be as helpful as possible to searchers, Google sometimes fails to respect the interests of other information providers. For example, if you search for hotels in Bury, you get Google's automatically curated list before you get lists from rival platforms such as TripAdvisor and Yelp. 

3. In the past, there has been some evidence that Google is biased towards controversial new technologies, perhaps because the technology vendors spend more on advertising than the technology sceptics. I have noted this apparent bias in relation to Biometrics (Nov 2003) and RFID (Nov 2005). Google now seems to have made some progress on this issue - Rory looked up "fracking" and got a more even-handed view from Google than from Bing.

4. Even without any obvious commercial or political agenda on Google's part, it is easy to see how Google's results could appear to show a lack of balance. Note for example the recent controversy about Unprofessional Hair. There have also been suggestions that Google page ranking could influence the public perception of politicians and thus sway elections.

5. One of the most dangerous aspects of the Google phenomenon is the widespread illusion that Google gives you Objective Truth. Rory talks to Ben Gomes, who is described as Google's Guru of Search, who talks about the Quest for the Perfect Search.

"The perfect search is giving you what you were looking for. Not just the words you typed - but what you were actually looking for."

The programme gave the impression that Google is converging on the Perfect Search. Rory himself says he generally finds what he is looking for. My own experience is that it sometimes requires a fair amount of ingenuity to find stuff, especially interesting and original stuff. See my posts You don't have to be smart to search here ... but it helps (Nov 2008) and Thinking with the Majority (March 2009). See also The Power of Twitter (April 2016).



Wondering about the deliberate spelling mistake in the title of this post? I wanted to pay tribute to a listing from @brightonargus.
Which reminded me of the original Argus Panoptes, the giant who would be the mythical ancestor of Google. And also the ARGUS-IS system, a secret rival to Google's Street View.  Even Argus may have flawed vision sometimes.

Wikipedia: Argus Panoptes, ARGUS-IS.

Leigh Alexander, Do Google's 'unprofessional hair' results show it is racist? (Guardian 8 April 2016)

Rory Cellan-Jones, Six searches that show the power of Google (BBC 26 April 2016)

Konrad Krawczyk, Google is easily the most popular search engine, but have you heard who’s in second? (Digital Trends, 3 July 2014)

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