April 17, 2003
Google criticism II

Another recent criticism of Google is a criticism of the meme changing effects of search found in
The Register. The story on the subversion of the term 'second superpower' (a misappropriaiton of the term seemed to have sucked all meme energy out the original) is largely punctured by the present state of affairs: Almost all references to the term 'second superpower' are now to references to the story in The Register and the newly coined term 'Googlewash'.
Rather than a global conspiracy, the story is evidence of memetics at work. James Moore the original abuser of the term 'second superpower' was able to reach a lot of people with hisuse of the term and that stuck. That's how meaning of terms has been established since words first came about. Public use of words spreads to the listeners, and more so for some speakers than others. Nothing new. Nothing to do with Google - except that Google is sufficiently updated that you can actually follow stories like this on a day to day basis.
However The Register saw further grounds for outcry, claiming that the Googlewash criticism was being censored by Google. This is pure uncontrolled paranoia. A search for Googlewashed return a ton of weblog results, all of them quoting and agreeing to (the incorrect criticism in) the first article in The Register. In fact, the fourth highest ranked link is the article verbatim quoted in another newssource. What happened to the original was most likely some text comparison (maybe through the computation of a hash value representing a page). Since the text appears verbatim as result no 4, the result is filtered. Clearly the chronology of publiciation is an interesting piece of data Google is not using, but there's a way to go from there to censorship.

Since the original Googlewash does not appear immediately in the search results, Andrew Orlowski (the author of both pieces) feels he is hanging on to a juicy bit of censorship ('Clearly, someone at Google doesn't like the word "Googlewashed"' is the soundbite) but clearly he is not. The Google searches for the terms in question are not in any way hindering the propagation of his Google backlash or his new Googlewash term.

The most interesting thing in the later of the two pieces is the allegation that there's a ghost in Google's machine: Somebody is doing something sinister behind the scenes.
This is a very human reaction. Faced with events we cannot explain we immediately interpret these events as 'actions' and equip the actions with an 'actor' responsible for them with some kind of human motivation. The history of ideas oscillates between 'romantic' periods where everything is infused with actors and 'rational' periods with an emphasis on decloaking the actors and redusing actions to mere events. It seems clear to me what we are in one of the romantic periods now.

It is interesting to compare this belief in the sinister behind-the-scene plot with that of The Turk - Wolfgang von Kempelen's chess playing 'machine' which saw the light of day towards the end of the enlightenment. Von Kempelens chess playing automaton was in fact a trick. An actual chess player was hidden within the machine to make the moves, but the illusion caused quite a sensation in it's day. The Enlightenment was very much a period where things were being pulled apart, not put together, and that of course is the basis of the illusion; the onlookers were willing to accept the fact that a machine could in fact play chess, and marveled at this mechanical masterpiece. Von Kempelen's illusion would not work with Andrew Orlowski in the audience. His predisposition is quite the opposite. Somebody is doing something behind the scenes.

Posted by Claus at April 17, 2003 12:51 PM