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Why Web 2.0 Spells a Reckoning for Google and Mass Media
By Matt Robson in New York

Page 2

How, in a post-Web 2.0 world, can search giants push the frontiers of collective intelligence? They can improve most drastically by enabling community feedback to allow collaborative editing of results in order to eliminate irrelevant and second-rate results. MSN, Yahoo and Google have all neglected to tap into their user-base to eliminate spam and poor search results, and have failed to differentiate their offerings in a meaningful way.  


Mike Reed: Howlers
© Mike Reed

Creating a unified system of classification for Web and other content, akin to the Dewey Decimal System for books, is the next step in organizing the important areas of knowledge. Currently the Internet lacks even conventions to distinguish truth from fiction. Fact, opinions, and outright lies along with spam-like computer-generated junk pages blend indistinguishably into the concoction that makes up modern search results. 

Crawling the web without any organization is like loading a dump truck full of books and calling that a "resource".

Search engines like Google, since they lack human oversight, are much more limited than their enthusiasts let on, and exhibit an unchanging bias towards corporate and popular, yet dubious resources. Google's mechanical popularity bias often translates in practice into a corporate bias, and leaves it prone to overlooking resources with detailed references and in-depth, impartial information. (If a corporate site has millions of sites linking to it, then its press releases must be worth reading, right?)

If search providers could organize results using the Wikipedia model, reliance on old-fashioned search engines would be vastly reduced. The very act of making a structured internet that was self-organizing, steered by the work of trusted experts and large groups, would spell disaster for companies such as Google who bank on bringing order to the chaos.  
  
Ironically, Google's founders have weighed in on this very notion – over 10 years ago. In their landmark 1996 paper, Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine,  they make it clear that centralized search has strict limitations, and that the use of a distributed system (something NOT possible for one company to implement in spirit) is the only significant frontier that will drastically improve the efficiency of current techniques, as well as enabling elegant new capabilities. (One wonders how they sidestepped their foreseen empire's demise to hoodwink their investors; if searching could adopt universal cataloging and structure, no one would need to rely on Google.) 

Who is in a Position to Introduce an Expanded Protocol for Web 2.0?

 If the users of engines are kept in the dark as to the inner workings, they cannot improve its organization by adding footnotes or helping it learn new tricks.  How will Matt Cutts, webmaster emissary and poster-boy for Google ideology, explain how Googlers shall retain leadership in an "elegant" openly accessible system ( web 2.0 , or blogosphere ) without, well...opening access to their closely guarded secrets? Resources obscured by secrets can't tap into the richness of collective editing. Sources such as Wikipedia exhibit the potential of a fertile environment for conceptual wealth to flourish. Open systems gain their momentum from a community of contributors; the open editing process truly allows resources to take on a life of their own.

Big G talks out of one side of its mouth about technological progressivism, yet, at the same time, their serious plays don't show commitment to the frontier of integrated web services. Their big acquisitions are primarily land grabs: assets they can cling to. The shift from technology provider towards media platform reveals a schizoid identity reminiscent of the AOL / Time ‘synergy’. It's no surprise the oracle and media mogul don't see eye to eye.


Mike Reed: Ideologue 
© Mike Reed 

The model of collaboration and flexibility exemplified by Wikipedia are set to revolutionize the search engine realm, as well as the news and media networks. News media, currently following the press cycle of the media dinosaurs, haven't figured this out yet, or, reluctant to entertain their own demise, are in denial about it.

Even the search dominance of Google’s does not automatically translate into media centrality. Google tried to develop a video search and distribution capability on its site, but never bothered to remind anyone about it. Since there were alternatives such as YouTube, Google's video offering never became a runaway success. They had to spring for YouTube to mark their serious entry into the web video market. 

With the advent of Web 2.0, we've attained publishing and broadcasting innovations that foster access, abundance and accountability. The printing press ended the age of illiteracy. Gunpowder ended serfdom. Video killed the radio star. The ideals of social intelligence will drastically alter political, cultural, educational, and, not least, economic processes.

Perhaps the day is near when smug CEOs must confront the threat they can't buy their way out of-- the rival they can't acquire, the pervasive web serivce. As the saying goes, when you can't beat 'em, join 'em.   


Mike Reed: Lurker
© Mike Reed

Who, now, is content to merely surf the web? We seek to swallow it whole, to process it, filter it, repackage it, redirect it, and spit it out with our name on it. Web services allow me, and the new companies I depend on, to do just that. As new resources develop, sites like Myspace will remain popular and useful places to host personal profiles, yet they will cease to be the starting point for a social search, and struggle to maintain relevance with their self-contained borders. (More comprehensive indexes can be found elsewhere such as internetaddressbook.com.) 
  
Google is unlikely to leverage media and advertising markets to the degree many expect. Google will never inspire its viewers with the trust of a media network. It will struggle enough merely to maintain its position as the favored Internet TV guide. There is no culture to Google, and no personality.

As founders Page and Brin remarked, Google's brain is somewhat of an inelegant monoculture, and very susceptible to being infected with manipulations by those who know the Google rules and have a lot of web junk or money. Today's Google results are easily-- and extensively-- manipulated by unscrupulous content spammers, and scrupulous "search engine optimization" experts who know how to tip the scales of Google justice. Because Google, and any inflexible system, is inherently biased by its own rigid decision making process, the dependence on a one-sided, non-adaptive process represent Google's structural limitations and ultimately, the downfall of its claim to preeminence. 
  
Big search surely will have a future in content and advertising technology - but the "not-so-little engine that could" will no longer scale the search mountain alone. As to the belief in Google's continued search hegemony and projected dominance in media ...The emperor has no buzz.

 

Matt Robson, 26, holds a B.S. in Mathematics from Carnegie Mellon University. His current project, Connect Society , seeks to enable next-generation social networking to operate across social networks, not within them. Based in New York, this is Mr. Robson's first technology comment for Culturekiosque.com.

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