Friday, June 13, 2014

The Googlization of Everything

Notes from a presentation by Siva Vaidhyanathan, Robertson Professor in Media Studies, University of Virginia at the 2014 FEDLINK Spring Exposition at the Library of Congress, Montpelier Room on
May 14, 2014.

 Mr. Vaidhyanathan is the author of TheGooglization of Everything - and Why We Should Worry,
Libraries have done so well that they are taken for granted.  They become invisible – like an offensive line in football.  You only notice when it doesn’t do its job.

Google is 17 years old.  In that time it has changed our expectation of how companies should operate and on the availability of information.  Google is pervasive and we have become dependent.
Right to be forgotten

What about the recent European Court decision that people can remove information about themselves from the public record.
The European case involved a Spanish man who at one time owed a large debt.  He repaid the debt – but anyone searching his name on Google finds a page about the debt – but not the information that the debt was repaid long ago.

In the days before the Internet anyone doing research on this man would have to go to a local library, courthouse or records office and search through records and likely learn that he had repaid a debt that he owed at one time.  This kind of searching takes time and costs money.  In the age of Google it is cheap and easy – but it fails to provide the context of the information.  Yes – there was a debt – THAT WAS REPAID!
Following the European Court decision, the New York Times opined that this was an attack on the free press.  But we had a free press before Google – why does this threaten the press?

Another reaction to the court decision is the sense that if we cannot find something on Google, then it doesn’t exist.
Social Circles

Facebook has changed the way we connect socially with others.  In the past one managed one’s circles of friends and would selectively share personal information.  Our co-workers would know some information; acquaintances we meet at conferences would know some, perhaps not the same information.  Our family would have other information – but our siblings might know things that our parents did not know.
Facebook scrambles those circles – so that everyone is suddenly on the same level of knowing the same information about us and our associations.  Unless we learn to control our Facebook privacy settings.

Google scrambles our ability to control our reputation.  The links that point to us are skewed by the weight given to some websites.  Some news sources are given more significance than other sites.  For example, Huffington Post articles seem to stay at the top of the search results.
NSA has had a partnership with Google and Facebook, but we only recently learned that NSA has gotten even more access to our personal information at these sites than even the administrators realized.

Google’s Mission:
The mission statement is not – “Don’t be evil.”

It is To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible.
When Google started in 1988 – that was ambitious – so much material was being added to the Internet on a daily basis.  Yahoo approached the organization with people to do the sorting and categories to help.

Google folks were in university and applied for a National Science Foundation grant for library research – and they developed the algorithm to sort and organize the web sites.
Organizing is a job of discernment, judgment and training.  It needs training and guidelines.

This is the hubris of Google – to think that they can organize the world’s information.  Not all of the world’s information is on the Internet – and they still cannot make it universally accessible. 
Libraries have the skill and the ability to provide access to their collections – and they have better metadata!

But this was part of their purpose in launching GoogleBooks, GoogleScholar and even taking on YouTube.
GoogleBooks – was a deal with Harvard University, Stanford, New York Public Library, the Bodleian Library and a few others that gave Google, a six-year old start-up company, the access to hundreds of years of acquisitions and materials with the purpose of digitizing and putting on the Internet – without any plan for copyright and license agreements.

But these projects are losing money for Google.
More about Google Rankings

Google is a benevolent dictator.  In the early days of the Internet porn sites came up pretty regularly in Internet searches.  Now Google downgrades the ranking of porn sites – the sites are still there – just not on the first page.
Personalization and localization are great for shopping and for business, but they are not very good for learning – when we are trying to research some principle or standard and it isn’t tied to something within our immediate vicinity.

What is missing is the learning and the context of information that comes from doing real research.  Algorithms favor the interests of developers.
Popularity of sites plays a role in search retrieval on Google.  The more popular sites come up first.  This is disastrous when you are searching for health information.  Search on vaccination and you get a lot of sites by vaccine-bashers and Huffington Post articles.  That is a subject area where brand names should matter – Centers for Disease Control or WebMD etc.

What is the goal?
Google has already won the battle of the search engines.  So far they haven’t won the battle of the operating systems of the Web or of Mobile devices.  The goal is become the operating system for life – when our appliances and our cars and our clothes are all connected to the Web. 

What is the long game?  On the open Web, Google wins over Facebook.  If you spend your time on Facebook – then Facebook wins.
The big players are Apple, Microsoft, Google and Facebook.  Who will win when data is flowing through our lives?  Who will we trust to manage all of that?  Who will be the operating system of our lives?

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