agitation you can live with.

Friday, April 11, 2003

How Google grows

  Fast Company on Google:

Note: Google has no strategic planning dept., according to this story, which outlines a more "democratic" regime:

Here's how one Google service came into the world. In December 2001, researcher Krishna Bharat posted an internal email inviting Googlers to check out his first crack at a dynamic news service. Although Google offered a basic headline service at the time, news was not a corporate mandate. This was simply Bharat's idea. As a respected PhD hired away from Compaq and a member of the company's 10-person research lab, coming up with new ideas is basically Bharat's job.

For an early prototype, it was quite a piece of work. Bharat had built an engine that crawled 20 news sources once an hour, automatically delivering the most recent stories on in-demand topics -- something like a virtual wire editor. And within Google, it got a lot of attention. Importantly, it attracted the attention of Marissa Mayer, a young engineer turned project manager.

Mayer connected Bharat with an engineering team. And within a month and a half, Google had posted on its public site a beefed-up version of the text-based demo, which is now called Google News and which features 155 sources and a search function. Within three weeks of going public, the service was getting 70,000 users a day.

I.e., Google is using the Net's great potential as a site of open experiment:

One big factor is the company's willingness to fail. Google engineers are free to experiment with new features and new services and free to do so in public.

via Bag & Baggage.

Posted #  6:44 AM by tom

Edelman on Google

  Dave Winer reports on Ben Edelman's work with Google's SafeSearch: I work in an office next to Ben Edelman, a Harvard Law student who in his spare time serves as a watchdog and lightning rod for users of the Web. He digs things up that we should be wondering out, like how good is Google, really?

We depend on them being very good, and fair. When we turn on a feature like SafeSearch we expect to have pornography and other content that's not appropriate for children, or sensitive adults, eliminated from search results. But how good are their filters? Does it also filter out sites that talk about pornography; or human sexuality in an educational, non-prurient context?

Ben says: "SafeSearch is intended by Google to block pornography and explicit sexual content, but my research indicates that it blocks far more. SafeSearch is easily confused by ambiguous words in web page titles -- like Hardcore Visual Basic Programming, a web page that describes intense programming for experts, without any sexually-explicit content whatsoever."

Edelman is a colleague of mine at Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

I would just ask whether this really is addressing the ultimate quality of Google, as Dave appears to want it to. It's a klutzy "moral" filter. It's hard to do, Dave. Can you do better?

Posted #  4:49 AM by tom

Monday, April 07, 2003

Intersubjective Forces visible in Real Time

  Taking up the Googlewashing question, Chris Cheshire on the Fibreculture list finds Google becoming the tracking site of "large scale cultural and linguistic patterns" as they emerge.

On Saturday, April 5, 2003, at 02:03 PM, Seamus Byrne wrote:

> In this 'Googlewashing' case, we're dealing with a living difference
> between the importance of a word IRL versus its status in the online
> community. The anti-war movement offline may have taken up this term
> after a NYT article, but its instances and linkages in this context
> online were obviously less than this alternate usage.

What interests me in the emergence of google's PageRankings as a site
of struggle is not whether it is deliberately manipulated, nor whether
it can be classified as democratic, but how it makes certain
intersubjective forces visible in real time, and spins them back into

Constant shifts in language use are usually encountered only casually
and locally. A new term ("Second Superpower") turns up and might come
into circulation because of its subjective efficacy (people like using
it -- it does something that other words don't). The term's uptake may
be boosted by mainstream media like the New York Times article.
Sometimes particular terminology is subject to explicit informal
regulation, like the argument over whether the term 'mediums' is an
American abuse of Royal English or a valid alternative to the plural

Of course, linguists have long traced etymology and language usage,
after the fact. Many linguists in corpus linguistics have been using
computers to do this since the 60s by entering written texts and
transcripts of spoken language into big databases. Online lexical
reference systems such as Princeton's WordNet organise language into synonym
sets. These approaches tend to operate to create large authoritative
databases of semantic connections.

Google's PageRank captures certain slices of language in action at a
large scale. The language in action that it captures is by no means
representative of all contemporary spoken language use. It samples
website text. Although the web has relatively low barriers to entry,
websites still tend to be associated with institutions. And the
link-weighting that Googles imposes _will_ tend to be conservative, as
it tends to capture the dominant tropes of the moment, partly
conditioned by the commercially-inflected interests of the Google

Within these constraints, though, Google's trawled dataset, and its
weighted search capabilities make it possible to discover large scale
cultural and linguistic patterns as they emerge. Google's famous
zeitgeist ( ) gives some
sense of these patterns. But any search at all makes apparent cultural
patterns previously accessible only with involved linguistic inquiry.
With the collective activity of millions of web authors, and the
relentless trawling of search robots, these patterns are largely

More significantly, Google's globally dominant position as a search
engine means that these cultural patterns are fed back into culture
again -- as query results. The top hits become prime time information,
seeding further discourse of all types (conversation, journalistic
articles, mailing list posts). This type of influence is not the same
as that of the press, television or radio. This influence is of course
what is behind the efforts such as link-banking, that aim to manipulate

Google is neither a triumph of democracy, nor an elite conspiracy, but
an emergent technocultural phenomenon that is subtly reconfiguring the
terrain of human activity and knowledge. It has a specificity that
can't be reduced to categories of political science, nor dismissed as
commercial opportunism. Its consequences can't be anticipated, but as
the Second Superpower story shows, it is changing the inflection of
events as they unfold.


-- -
Dr Chris Chesher
School of Media and Communications
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
University of New South Wales

Posted #  6:14 AM by tom

Sunday, April 06, 2003

Breaking through language barriers via bloggers

  An idea from the hairy eyeball:

A recent post on linguablogs by Weblog Central asked "How do you read foreign language blogs?" Machine-translation tools such as Google's language tools provide gisting, but is it common to find bloggers linking to gisted posts in languages other than English? The answer, I wrote back to the WC, is that I took the trouble to learn a few foreign languages, and know other people who have learned other ones.

These are the people that I would like to enlist in this group blog — a sort of multilingual Metafilter, with community features such as forums to be added as I find time. What I envision is a game of six degrees of separation in which I, with my English, Portuguese and French, could read about memes propagated in Chinese from someone with, say, Chinese, French, and German. more...

Posted #  8:05 PM by tom


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