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And Why We Should Worry. Siva Vaidhyanathan has set the table brilliantly for one of the most important conversations of the early 21st century. It's always a treat when a new Vaidhyanathan comes out. He finds much to admire, but also challenges us to not only use Google's services, but to go beyond them to create a new and genuinely democratic information order. While a number of excellent histories about the emergence of Google have been published. Vaidhyanathan's perspective as an East Coast academic outside the group-think of Silicon Valley is a valuable one.

He is a clear writer with an engaging voice, and a good guide for this peek behind the wizard's curtain.

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Strongly recommended for anyone interested in the subject. What is going on is fascinating, and as he makes clear, what could be going on if these tools and resources get into the metaphorical wrong hands is alarming. At pages, it's well worth any Google watcher's time. The author unmasks the monster behind the friendly interface with the suspense of a horror novel. An urgent reminder to look more closely at dangers that lurk in plain sight. Are we heading down a path toward a more enlightened age, or are we approaching a dystopia of social control and surveillance? With these and other questions, University of Virginia media studies and law professor Vaidhyanathan thoughtfully examines the insidious influence of Google on our society.

As Vaidhyanathan points out, we must be cautious about embracing Google's mission and not accept uncritically that Google has our best interests in mind. He reminds us that Google is a publicly traded, revenue-driven firm that is dangerous in many subtle ways. By valuing popularity over accuracy and established sites over new ones, Google sets its own agenda regarding what information is most relevant to users, altering their perceptions about value and significance.

That approach will give us a better sense of what the Googlization of everything means and what has already been done about it. There is a broad consensus that Web search is still in a very pedestrian phase. Both Yahoo and Google generally work the same way, and neither offers consistently superior search results.

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People tend to choose one or the other platform based on other factors-habit, the default search service embedded in a browser, their choice of e-mail client, appearance, or speed. At most search-engine companies, the computers tend to take the string of text that users type into a box and scour their vast indexes of copies of Web pages for matches.

Among the matches, each page is ranked instantly by a system that judges "relevance.

The more significant or highly ranked a recommending page is, the more weight a link from it carries within the PageRank scoring system. Each Web site copied into Google's servers thus carries with it a set of relative scores instantly calculated to place it in a particular place on a results page, and this ranking is presumed to reflect its relevance to the search query. Relevance thus tends to mean something akin to value, but it is a relative and contingent value, because relevance is also calculated in a way that is specific not just to the search itself but also to the search history of the user.

For this reason, most Web search companies retain records of previous searches and note the geographic location of the user. While this approach is standard, and works fairly well in most situations for most users, a number of search-engine companies have been working furiously to deepen the "thinking" that computers do when queried.

Since , we have seen the debut of a number of new search engines that offer a different way of searching and depend heavily on the ability to understand the context and purpose of the search query. And Google, understandably, refines and alters its search principles with regularity. Cuil, which debuted ignominiously in , was founded by a group of former Google employees. Its launch was marred by too much publicity and attention. The first users found the system terribly slow and fragile. Cuil boasts of searching a larger index of sources than either Google or Microsoft's search engine, Bing.

It also claims to be able to conduct rudimentary semantic analysis of the potential results pages to assess relevance better than the popularity method of PageRank. By the summer of , Cuil delivered consistently good results to basic queries, but no one seemed to notice. Most importantly, Cuil pledged not to collect user data via logs or cookies, the small files with identifying information that Google and other search engines leave in every user's Web browser, because it is more interested in what the potential results pages mean than what the user might think about. Cuil is a clever and innovative search service that has suffered from terrible business and public-relations decisions.

It remains at best a niche player in the search-engine contest. In early , the eccentric entrepreneur and scientist Stephan Wolfram released what he called a "computational knowledge engine," Wolfram Alpha.

The Googlization of Everything: (And Why We Should Worry)

By staging a series of small-scale demonstrations for the most elite Web thinkers in the United States, Wolfram was able to seed curiosity and attract attention for his service. Unlike a commercial search engine, Alpha is not so much designed to find pages and videos on the Web as to answer research questions by mining publicly available data sets.

It does not even attempt to index Web sites. Its utility to users and advertisers, therefore, is narrow. But as a concept in knowledge management and discovery, it is potentially revolutionary. If you ask Alpha, "How many atoms are in a molecule of ammonia? It even generates facts, in a sense, by computing new information from different, distinct data sets.

About the Book

Wolfram Alpha is not intended to compete with Google in any way or in any market although Google's Web search can answer the same question by directing users to the top link: However, if it succeeds, Alpha will remove a small set of scientific queries from the mass of Google searches. He exposes the dark side of our Google fantasies, raising red flags about issues of intellectual property and the much-touted Google Book Search.


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The Gospel of Google 1. How Google Came to Rule the Web 2. Faith in Aptitude and Technology 3. The Googlization of Us: Universal Surveillance and Infrastructural Imperialism 4. The Googlization of the World: Prospects for a Global Public Sphere 5. The Googlization of Knowledge: The Future of Books 6. The Googlization of Memory: Books Digital Products Journals.

Disciplines Sociology Popular Culture. The Scope of Google Google is sui generis. The Search for a Better Search There is a broad consensus that Web search is still in a very pedestrian phase. Google will hardly notice-unless it decides to adopt elements of Alpha technology for its o. About the Book In the beginning, the World Wide Web was exciting and open to the point of anarchy, a vast and intimidating repository of unindexed confusion.

While a number of excellent histories about the emergence of Google have been published. Vaidhyanathan's perspective as an East Coast academic outside the group-think of Silicon Valley is a valuable one. He is a clear writer with an engaging voice, and a good guide for this peek behind the wizard's curtain. Strongly recommended for anyone interested in the subject. What is going on is fascinating, and as he makes clear, what could be going on if these tools and resources get into the metaphorical wrong hands is alarming.

At pages, it's well worth any Google watcher's time.

The author unmasks the monster behind the friendly interface with the suspense of a horror novel. An urgent reminder to look more closely at dangers that lurk in plain sight. Are we heading down a path toward a more enlightened age, or are we approaching a dystopia of social control and surveillance? With these and other questions, University of Virginia media studies and law professor Vaidhyanathan thoughtfully examines the insidious influence of Google on our society. As Vaidhyanathan points out, we must be cautious about embracing Google's mission and not accept uncritically that Google has our best interests in mind.

He reminds us that Google is a publicly traded, revenue-driven firm that is dangerous in many subtle ways. By valuing popularity over accuracy and established sites over new ones, Google sets its own agenda regarding what information is most relevant to users, altering their perceptions about value and significance. Vaidhyanathan admirably concludes with a design for an information ecosystem called the Human Knowledge Project, which would be a more democratic means of parsing and organizing knowledge. Please read it today.