December 17, 2008
Chris Soghoian describes how he bumped up against Google’s questionable ad-sense trademark enforcement policies.
Soghoian’s story is troubling and it exposes yet another way in which the structure of web traffic has positioned Google as a de-facto arbiter of all kinds of legal speech, political salience, and good taste. More broadly, it demonstrates how key actors and institutions exercise influence in the networked public sphere.
For more on that idea, check out Matthew Hindman’s research. In his new book, The Myth of Digital Democracy, Hindman makes a related argument in a number of different ways, not the least of which is his compelling notion of “Googlearchy.” I disagree with Matt on a number of substantive points, but the significance of his analysis is undeniable. His work complements more established models for thinking about how social structure circumscribes certain kinds of thought and action.
One of the fascinating aspects of the Internet is that powerful forms of social order & status originate in seemingly innocuous expressions of aggregated opinions (e.g. the PageRank algorithm). Hindman’s work takes on the notion that such aggregated opinions are somehow equivalent to a utopian radical democracy or a free market of ideas.
In this sense, his argument parallels the work of economic sociologists, many of whom have analyzed the importance of the “embeddedness” of economic markets. Simply put, the thesis behind the concept of embeddedness is that the sorts of decentralized, disaggregated behaviors that occur in market-like settings are always an extension of the social and cultural contexts in which they occur. It’s a relatively simple idea, but it violates one of the core assumptions of neo-classical economic theory: that markets are a free and accurate expression of individual actors expressing rational preferences for the enhancement of their own wealth and welfare.
Sociologists such as Viviana Zelizer have shown how the economists’ assumptions break down in markets for deeply valued cultural goods such as intimacy and adoption. More recently, a number of scholars (including Marion Fourcade – a professor of mine at Berkeley) have taken up the idea that financial markets are also expressions of (economists’) cultural preferences and not merely an aggregated form of pure rationality.
Considering Hindman’s work and the continuing emergence of experiences like Soghoian’s, I think there’s a case to be made that research on the embeddedness of search technology might be a promising topic. Granted, I don’t know if there are many “neo-classical” information theorists out there that would be willing to defend the straw-man position that search technology serves up knowledge in a pure and rational form.
December 15, 2008
This just in, the Wall Street Journal’s story on Net Neutrality is a disaster. Google hates it, Lessig hates it, and it even appears to get a bunch of technical details wrong.
Steve Schultze (a colleague at the Berkman Center) has the details of the story on Managing Miracles (his blog) where he’ll be following it as it unfolds.
October 28, 2008
Quite an impressive tool that could enhance electoral transparency – although I suspect it might get wider use if the code could be embedded in social networking sites and other services that people are already using.
This kind of “political weather” usage of the google maps code is an interesting trend.
August 16, 2008
By allowing you to visualize the google search history for a given term across a few geographic and temporal dimensions, the tool lends itself to some wonderful applications – including this one – a glance at social networking around the world by a Swedish firm named Pingdom – which inspired Ethan’s post in the first place.
As Ethan points out, though, the search insights data also provokes a question about what it means to search in the first place (my emphasis):
The Insight data isn’t measuring traffic to those sites, or their number of active members, just the number of folks searching for those sites via Google. That may or may not be an effective proxy for interest in those networks. I’m a Facebook user, and I have the site bookmarked, so I rarely would find myself searching for the site – it’s possible that the search data is a more effective proxy for the strength of a brand in a particular market, or the level of interest from non-participants in a specific site
I had a good time playing with these theories by using the comparative graphing features to consider where different political blogs attracted a greater relative volume of searches. Sorry the maps display a bit small, but you should be able to download the files (or simply re-create the search) to get a closer look.
Here’s a fun, obvious one:
(note: the data is also normalized in relation to the highest value occurring within the query range).
Check out how they both spike after the 2004 election, but then the relative volume of searches for Kos stay consistently higher (peaking after the 2006 mid-term elections) than those for Insty.
Make of that what you will. I wouldn’t even hazard a guess without knowing more about the reasons people turn to the Internet (and Google) to find political information.
I think the story gets even more interesting when you compare the high traffic states for each blog.
And here’s Kos:
If you ignore the ratios for a second and just focus on the states in each list:
- Instapundit: DC, TN, NH, VA, MD, KS, NC, NY, WA, CT
- Kos: VT, DC, OR, WA, NM, MT, ME, NY, WY, CA
Once again, extrapolate at your own risk. All I know is that it does not track perfectly with voting patterns and that the overlaps (DC, NY, WA) are at least as interesting as the extreme mismatches (WY, VT, MT).
Reporting for Ars Technica, Matthew Lasar describes how Google is still fighting many months after the 700mhz spectrum auction. Basically, it looks like Verizon is trying to screw Google out the hard-fought provisions for platform and device neutral spectrum. Fortunately for consumers, innovators, and other companies, Google has the financial and legal muscle to push back.
The lede quote is delightful and direct:
“The rule requires openness for ‘Any Applications, Any Devices’—not ‘Any Applications, Except on Verizon Devices,’ as Verizon would interpret it,” a small squad of Google attorneys told the FCC on Friday. “The Commission must ensure that Verizon understands that this license obligation means what it says: Any Apps, Any Devices.”
Love those Google lawyers – especially William Patry.
Here’s an especially informative moment re: Verizon’s tactics:
Since [last October], the wireless giant has contented itself with making comments that suggest that the company will obey the open platform rule—except when it won’t. Around the time that Verizon withdrew the lawsuit, Thomas Tauke, the telco’s Vice President for Public Policy, spoke at a Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco. There he unveiled what he called the “two-door concept” regarding the auction: “Door No. 1, in the rules as written, you can bring your own device and it’s open and you can get on the network,” Tauke explained. “Door No. 2 is for the customer who wants the kind of contract they have with Verizon today, where we provide the device and we guarantee the service quality and so on.”
Two Doors?! Who do these folks think they’re fooling? This is an obvious recipe for tiered service, throttled traffic, preferential packet treatment, and all the other tricks in the big telco’s baskets.
As the article goes on to point out, Google’s actions at the FCC indicate that it is indeed quite serious about its Android platform.