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Google and New Media Search Engines

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All about Google

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: google technology)

Even on the web there are “old media” models with distinct differences from the “new media” models found in the user-generated content technological revolution. If the User-generated content model views individuals as producers, rather than simply consumers, then web sites operating in this model will put the needs of the user ahead of the goals of driving consumption.

Yahoo! might be seen as an “old media”search engine, adding features to its homepage so that it resembles a mall more than a library reference desk. Contrast this with Google, whose sparse homepage invites the user to view the site as a tool rather than a content-producer:

Screenshots of Yahoo! and Google's homepage changes
Image by John Maeda, September 5 2005: http://weblogs.media.mit.edu/SIMPLICITY/archives/000263.html [Accessed 2 December 2008]

Google and Search Engines as Message Producers

Content production and distribution, Stuart Hall points out, is inextricably tied to constructing “the message,” or meaning/ideology (1). A key difference between the Web and traditional media is that “producing content” on the Web is itself an abstract notion: Google, one of the most successful new media companies produces practically no original content but instead directs users to preexisting content through its search capabilities.  Google’s official goal is “to organize the world’s information to make it universally accessible,” (2) which it seeks to do through indexing “readily available information on the internet” (3). Google, and most search engines in general, differ from traditional “old media” content distribution models in that, due to algorithms that respond to search queries by presenting the most popular results first, the engine’s promoting allows it to abdicate from encoding meaning into the results. The results presented are the result of previous users’ determining the popularity of pages, these sites argue. Whether this is a true position, whether Google-style search engines are free from ideology-production, is explored in greater depth here.

Google’s unofficial motto reflects the revolutionary promises some see in the Web, especially in user-generated content technologies: “Don’t be evil” (4).“Don’t be evil” is an extreme ideological statement but as a dominant producer in the Web economy Google demands more critical review. As the company extends its service to new global markets the “impact of Googlisation upon the nation-state, and vice versa, is intrinsically linked to the control of information in cyberspace” (3). In his analysis of three separate cases of Google’s corporate reach coming up against government systems in France, the USA and China, Dai reviews how Google spreads its reach in ways “detrimental to the autonomy of nation-states” (3), while the nation-states react by attempting to protect their own interests.


Google and Governments

Google’s relationship with China has drawn criticism from many sources as Google complied with the Chinese government’s censorship policies. As Lewis explains in the Intelligence Squared US debate on the topic “Google Violates Its ‘Don’t Be Evil’ Motto,”

If you Google “Tibetan independence” (in the US) you’ll get back pointers to some sites that advocate the freedom of Tibet from Chinese rule… But if you do it inside China, you won’t get references to [these same sites]… The world looks very different through the window that Google provides, in China, than through the window on the world that you have available to yourselves here (5).

Thus, Lewis and others argue, by complying with oppressive policies when it is in Google’s commercial interest the company is violating both its “Don’t be evil” motto as well as its goal to make all the world’s information accessible. This violation of the motto is all the more intriguing when coupled with other instances of Google’s interactions with nation-states: Google actively refused participation in a USA Department of Justice inquiry in the interest of “protecting users privacy” (and, by extension, its commercial interests); and the French government sought to establish a national search engine to protect its culture and economy from what it viewed as American imperialist tendencies. By working so actively to protect its commercial interest Google can be viewed through the propaganda model as representing “new tools of domination for achieving a familiar set of ends” (6).


Google Is Good?

The dominant view toward Google might be understood as “at its heart, a good company that provides extraordinary services to the public, and makes extraordinary amounts of information available to the public, and is working around the world to make information available” (5). Indeed as Google (and the Internet in general) has emerged as a tool connecting users to amounts of information unimaginable by old media, the prevailing concept has been that of a Digital Revolution, as opposed to Grazian’s argument that can perhaps be simplified as a “Digital continuation of status quo.” In a debate between six scholars and journalists on the topic “Google Violates Its ‘Don’t Be Evil’ Motto,” even those arguing for the motion conceded that any evil on the part of Google is better understood in relation to the company’s stated goal, rather than through comparing Google to other companies that may act far more “evil.” In his final statement in the debate Randal Picker, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, said we should ask “when are they making a choice that we should understand to be one that benefits Google and hurts the market, hurts other participants in the market” (5), not necessarily whether Google as a whole is evil. For any argument against Google’s actions abetting the Chinese government’s censorship policies there exists another point saying Google’s very existence in China is a step toward democratizing information in the country (5). Likewise, where Jeanneny and Dai point to Google as an example of American-globalization of content/culture others see “increasing transparency and… personal autonomy” (5).


References

1. Hall, Stuart. “Encoding/Decoding.” Media and Cultural Studies Key Works Revised Edition. Eds. Meenakshi Gigi Durham and Douglas M. Kellner. Malden: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2006. 163-173.

2.  “Corporate Information – Company Overview.” http://www.google.com/corporate/ [Accessed 29 November 2008].

3 Dai, Xiudian. “Google.” New Political Economy. September 2007, 433-442.

4. “Google Investor Relations.” http://investor.google.com/conduct.html [Accessed 29 November 2008].

5. “Google Violates Its ‘Don’t Be Evil’ Motto.” Intelligence Squared US. NPR.org, 26 November 2008. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=97216369 [Accessed 28 November 2008].

6. Grazian, David. “A Digital Revolution? A Reassessment of New Media and Cultural Production in the Digital Age.” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Jan 2005: 209-222.

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Written by Tyler Baber

December 3, 2008 at 8:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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