Internet

The Air You Breathe, the Water You Drink, the Google You Search

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Is Google a public utility? That's essentially what the New York Times editorial board seems to be saying today:

Google says it only tweaks its algorithm to improve its searches. Some Web sites that have accused Google of unfair placing are merely collections of links with next to no original content of their own, precisely the kind of sites that Google's search algorithm screens out to better answer queries….Still, the potential impact of Google's algorithm on the Internet economy is such that it is worth exploring ways to ensure that the editorial policy guiding Google's tweaks is solely intended to improve the quality of the results and not to help Google's other businesses.

What policies might be "worth exploring?"

Some early suggestions for how to accomplish this include having Google explain with some specified level of detail the editorial policy that guides its tweaks. Another would be to give some government commission the power to look at those tweaks.   

Another possibility would be to resist the urge to regulate entirely rather than compulsively fretting about a lack of bureaucratic oversight every time a company develops a widely used service or product. The Times editorial board seems vaguely cognizant of its compulsion, cautioning the reader—and perhaps itself—that "Google provides an incredibly valuable service, and the government must be careful not to stifle its ability to innovate." But in the end, the urge is too strong. "If Google is to continue to be the main map to the information highway," the piece concludes, "it concerns us all that it leads us fairly to where we want to go." The assumption here is that Google effectively belongs to the public now. And because it belongs to the public, the company has an obligation to the public to provide "fair" search results, while the government has the duty to define what constitutes fairness—and enforce it. In other words, Google, whose ingenuity has helped millions chart the web, should be forced to play by the rules of a handful of Washington regulators in service of a nebulous public interest that those same few regulators get to define. Tell me again: What's fair about that?

Previously, I noted efforts to regulate Google's search technology here.

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  1. That’s what it said on ‘Ask Jeeves

  2. I propose that the NYT editorial board explain with some specified level of detail the editorial policy that guides it. Also, a government official should be placed on the NYT editorial board to keep an eye on things.

    1. We welcome the government into our home and hope they bring cookies for the kids and a Brinks truck for the garage.

    2. Clearly, we need a Bureau of Effective Newspapering.

  3. “If Google is to continue to be the main map to the information highway,” the piece concludes, “it concerns us all that it leads us fairly to where we want to go.” The assumption here is that Google effectively belongs to the public now. And because it belongs to the public, the company has an obligation to the public to provide “fair” search results, while the government has the duty to define what constitutes fairness?and enforce it.”

    Try a little thought experiment – substitute ‘news’ for ‘search’ and ‘NYT’ for ‘Google’ – wait one half nano second to hear the squealing about censorship and press freedom.

  4. Too big to fail for the private sector?

  5. Another would be to give some government commission the power to look at those tweaks.

    Yes, why doesn’t the government just grant itself the power to just do whatever the hell it wants? What could possibly be wrong with that?

    1. isn’t that kinda what they do now ?

    2. Shut up and love it. It’s for your own good.

  6. Another would be to give some government commission the power to look at those tweaks.

    Wow. I never saw *that* coming.

  7. Just as the Second Amendment only protects the people’s right to own flintlocks, the First Amendment only protects the people’s right to use AltaVista.

  8. Wonder what the NY Times policy is on employee search engine usage? Use Bing or Ask only?

    1. Alta Vista!

      1. AltaVista was my search engine of choice for quite some time. It was good for boolean and other advanced search techniques.

        No reason that Google is going to be top dog in searching forever. I fully expect that they’ll get dethroned one of these days, or at least lose market share.

        1. AltaVista was a great search engine.

            1. Yeah, in case anyone didn’t know, AV still exists.

          1. It brought a lot of great porn to my computer

        2. Google still doesn’t have the NEAR operator that AltaVista has had for a long time.

        3. You know you can do all sorts of advanced search techniques on Google, right?

          1. If you’re talking to me, yes. Though I seem to recall that AV was better at that even back in the day.

    2. Judgeing by content, they are only allowed to search within NYTimes.com.

  9. Wonder what the NY Times policy is on employee search engine usage?

    You call Katherine Hepburn; she knows everything.

  10. How long until the NYT goes broke, again?

    1. Wow, I never saw that list. Pretty impressive.

      Thanks J sub D.

  11. Some early suggestions for how to accomplish this include having Google explain with some specified level of detail the editorial policy that guides its tweaks.

    This is the kind of thought that swirls around the minds of authoritarians: It is them who have to explain their decisions to us, the arrogant notables and overseers, no matter that Google is a privately-owned enterprise, that the customers and Google are bound by mutually-consented and accepted contractual agreements.

  12. Still, the potential impact of Google’s algorithm the library’s shelving policies on the Internet economy reading public is such that it is worth exploring ways to ensure that the editorial policy guiding Google’s tweaks the library’s choice of books is solely intended to improve the quality of the results the public’s books.

  13. The funniest part of this is how dejected the Microsoft employees working on Bing must feel. They didn’t even get a mention.

    1. Now you know how Mussolini felt.

      1. I laughed

  14. “it is worth exploring ways to ensure that the editorial policy guiding Google’s tweaks is solely intended to improve the quality of the results and not to help Google’s other businesses.”

    What the hell is wrong with Google taking steps that help their own business? The NYT should go fuck itself.

  15. I wonder what tweak would put NYT hits much further down the results list?

    1. A tweak that incorporates declining circulation data.

    2. I think the Times might want to check how much of their website traffic comes from Google News. I think Google might just want to tweak Google News if the Times doesn’t shut their yap.

  16. The NYT suffers from Tall Poppy Syndrome.

    1. Just Googled Tall Poppy Syndrome.

  17. I skimmed the article, can someone tell me if I missed the disclosure that Google and the NYT are competitors for online ad revenue?

    1. Not exactly, but the NYTimes dominance of the media hierarchy is indeed threatened by google’s open-access, popularity based system.

      The Times, no doubt, will want the regulator to make sure that whoever gets a “tweak” is someone that (say) the government considers “real journalism”. Like you know, the Times.

    2. Not exactly, but the NYTimes dominance of the media hierarchy is indeed threatened by google’s open-access, popularity based system.

      The Times, no doubt, will want the regulator to make sure that whoever gets a “tweak” is someone that (say) the government considers “real journalism”. Like you know, the Times.

      1. you can say that again!

  18. I’d think Google would welcome this. Government regulation specifically aimed at Google would ensure that Google stays on the radar forever. What if the government had regulated MySpace, and referred to it as the “official” national networking site?

    Google may be huge and powerful, but that doesn’t guarantee it will be around past next year.

    1. Google may be huge and powerful, but that doesn’t guarantee it will be around past next year.

      Next you’ll be saying The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P) doesn’t still dominate the grocery biz.

      1. A&P

        Who?

        I quick Google search tells me that they are just an east coast regional chain.

        I don’t think they exist in the Chicagoland area.

        1. How soon we forget. A&P used to be the largest grocery retailer in the country. The last one I can remember was the one in NOLA on the corner of Royal, but it changed ownership a few years ago.

        2. He may be referring to Big Box Panic.

          A&P was the dominant grocer in the 1930’s-1970’s, being the largest retailer worldwide at one point and controlling 75% of the grocer market. In the 1960’s, they sold their West Coast operations to Safeway.

          I remember them from when I was younger. My grandparents didn’t “go grocery shopping” — they “went to A&P”.

          Like Woolworth’s, they were a company that dominated the market for a while and are now a shadow of their former self.

          1. Prodigy, Compuserve, AOL… the list goes on and on… and on…

            and on…

    2. The biggest threat to google is the SEO industry making it irrelevant by gaming the system so much with duiplcate-content interlinking sites.

      It’s a problem which most people recognizing is rapidly destroying the usefulness of Google. How many sites that lead to identical content do you have to sift through to find a legit one?

      The Times is acting in the interests of a bunch of people whose career it is to games the system to get higher search placement, AGAINST the interests of the consumer.

      Google is trying to give it’s customers what they want. But the Times apparantly is in favor of forcing YOU to look at multiple sites that say the same thing.

      You know why this is happening? because the SEO industrying is a multi-billion dollar industry with a lot of fucking cash to lobby the government apparantly.

      And they learn something from the net neutrality debate.

      1. Exactly. Google is still better than anything else, but it’s not hard to imagine the thing better than Google; it has less of this SEO crap. And when it finally comes, Google is Yahoo.

        1. Not if the lobbyists get their way. Or the Times. If the lobbyist get their way, SEO becomes a human right. if the times get their way, search engine placement gets decided by the state.

          The Times editorial is some perverse combination of pure evil and retardedness.

          It’s the most revoltingly false pretense of standing up for the little guy while actually supporting people who want to control the information you read that I have ever seen.

      2. That may be the biggest threat to Google search, but the biggest threat to Google is internal chaos: the sheer number of lines of business its involved in, and the sheer number of employees who are up to god knows what.

    3. +1 I was thinking the same thing. Teh Google becomes the official Con Ed, no competitiors allowed.

      1. Like Samuel Insull wanted electricity to be regulated.

    4. What if the government had regulated MySpace, and referred to it as the “official” national networking site?

      Its decline would have accelerated.

      1. ISDN, anyone?

    5. Government regulation specifically aimed at Google would ensure that Google stays on the radar forever.

      I don’t think that’s an unintended consequence…

  19. Another possibility is to tar and feather every asshole who had a hand writing this editorial.

  20. You know what this really is?

    THIS, not bittorrent throttling, or anything else, THIS is the established medias attempt to control who gets access to what by manipulating the placement of sites on search engines.

    This is the NYTimes trying to ensure that IT’S blogrolls get “tweaked” to top placement on good. THAT is why they want it regulated. So they can make sure that no matter how much bullshit Dowd, and Friendman and Brooks and Krugman spew, no matter how retarded their writers are in comparison to the true writers out there on the net, their blogs will still be #1.

    1. So, tell me, who wins a war between Google and, well, any newspaper?

      1. The government.
        The more ink get spilled over “OMG the search engines are rating people BY HAND, like YAHOO used to in 1996! That’s unfair!” The more impetus there is for the state to “do something”.

        1. Ye gods, I hope not.

    2. This is actually nothing new. At least globally it’s not.

      What disgusts me about organizations like the New York Times is that they’re so completely unquestioning of government power.

      Yes, they’ll criticize an administration, but they’ll never question the general concept of government authority. They’ll never inject doubt as to whether the government should be involved in this or that thing, whether the government has any business regulating this or that behavior. They are the ultimate government “yes” men.

      It’s getting to the point where I’m seriously believing that if we lived in New York Times land, it would be a gulag with 100% medical coverage and full employment.

      1. It’s so transparently an effort to control the information we have access to. Government control of search engine placement. EVIL AND CREEPY.

        Fucking establishment media is really freaked out by the thought that our fragile minds might be exposed to something they don’t like.

  21. Can the NYT get any more creepy?

    1. I suppose it’s possible. But for a newpaper that pretends to be against business interests, they sure are sucking a lot of SEO cock here.

    2. Yes, and unless the progressive movement is derailed from its current course, they will.

    3. You people can rip on the NYT all you want but it only takes two sheets of their newspaper to get my Webber charcoal chimney going. Try starting coals with a search engine.

      1. You people can rip on the NYT all you want but it only takes two sheets of their newspaper to get my Webber charcoal chimney going. Try starting coals with a search engine.

        True that.

        And you should see how much cat piss it absorbs in my cat’s litter boxes. It lets me go an extra 2-3 days without having to change that.

        Google can’t absorb cat piss like the Time can! THat alone should make sure the NYTimes will never be obsolete!

      2. Yeah, but you don’t need today’s Times to do that. Or even this year’s. You can just sneak old editions of out of the reference section of your public library.

  22. If one doesn’t like Google’s search algorithms one can use a different search engine. Further, one would think that the NYT would be particularly aware of consumers’ ability to choose something other than the formerly perceived leader in an area.

    1. Yes, well apparantly now gaming the search system is a human right.

      1. “Fair” information sorting is a human right.

    2. Oh, snap.

    3. That’s why I use a different news organization than the NYT.

  23. Good news ThreadJack of the day:

    “2 men cleared by DNA; judge dismisses charges”

    http://www.seattlepi.com/local…..icted.html

  24. I wonder if the Times would stop editorializing about this if it’s search placement on Google was slightly higher.

  25. In a sick perverse way I think this is their backdoor way to get net neutrality passed. One argument against was the threat of “search neutrality” and regulatory winter. Their rebuttal is apparently “So what?” and that all regulation is good and if it takes search neutrality to get net neutrality passed, then so be it.

    goddamn i hate big govt fukbots

    1. Much like “net neurtrality” is a backdoor for the FCC to start monitoring bit traffick for copyright violations, “search neurtrality” is a backdoor for the government and establishing interest to get better search placement.

      Ya know, government and big media sites at the top of the page.

      Supporters of net neutrality and search neutrality are useful idiots.

      The FCC is going to sit there protecting the rights of people distributing bootlegged videos on bittorret? Yeah-fucking-right, moron.

      1. er neutrality. fuck my spelling is bad today.

        this is what happens when you wake up and see this kind of bullshit first thing in the morning.

      2. The FCC is going to sit there protecting the rights of people distributing bootlegged videos on bittorret?

        Essentially turning the FCC into a branch of the RIAA’s and MPAA’s legal departments.

    2. And guess who is a big supporter of Net Neutrality?

      Starts with a “G”, ends with an “oogle”.

      1. Right. I’m curious to read their reaction to search neutrality.

        1. Everyone believe in a regulated marketplace… for others.

  26. We used to have search engines that went so far as to sell good placement to those who paid them. We don’t have those anymore. Why? The answer isn’t that the government regulated them; it’s that it was trivial for people to switch to Google, which didn’t.

    If Google manipulates its results for any purpose other than making those results more useful to users, Google will become less useful, and it will shed users to Ask, Bing, Cuil, or Yahoo/Altavista.

    Just like, if the New York Times slants its coverage to support the hobby horses of its publisher, that make it less useful to people, and it will shed readers to the Wall Street Journal.

    1. Not if they can lobby the government to force google to enhance their search engine placement.

      After all, The NYTimes is “real journalism”, and the WSJ is just a corporate mouthpiece.

  27. I seem to be late to the “substitute Google with NYT” party, but let me see what I can contribute:

    “The New York Times says its editorial policy is to publish all the news that’s fit to print, and that its selection of topics to cover is based only on what benefits the public. Some citizens whose stories have been underreported by the NYT have accused the NYT of giving undue prominence to articles on certain topics (eg, New York City theater reviews) while giving less play to other, equally newsworthy topics. . . . the potential impact of the NYT’s topic-selection procedures on the public policy debate is such that it is worth exploring ways to ensure that the NYT’s editorial policy is solely intended to improve the quality of the news and not to help promote its pet causes, or to increase corporate profits (from such things as Kelo-style takings of property). . . .

    “Some early suggestions for how to accomplish this include having the NYT explain with some specified level of detail the editorial policy that guides its choices of topics. Another would be to give some government commission the power to look at that editorial policy.”

  28. Los LINKS!!!!!

  29. The fine editors at the New York times have forgotten one thing: how the internet works.

    Google could pack up its algorithm and move overseas.

    1. The Internet is not a big boat.

      1. We’ll impose an exit, errr, patriotism tax on companies that seek to get around Our legislation by moving overseas.

        1. They don’t actually have to move, they just have to replace the search on http://www.google.com with a link to http://www.google.com.hk/

      2. The Internet is not a big boat.

        That’s right. It’s a DUMP TRUCK. But it could be placed on a ferry to go overseas, no?

  30. The New York Times and the FCC should form a public/private partnership and within that, an executive committee which will determine the value of all internet content, rate its search engine significance accordingly, and block all content that has no socially redeeming value.

  31. This is what happens when Journalists think they understand technology.

    1. This is what happens when a guy with a journalism degree thinks he understands any other field well enough to report on it.

      Frankly, ALL journalism should be based on a paradigm of only reporting on a field in which you have at least a Bachelor’s degree, or minimum five years work experience. Journalism majors should be required to get a dual degree in the field they intend to report on, so they’ll have a minimal fucking clue.

      The way we have it now, journalists are all agenda driven hacks with bullshit detectors that are worse than useless. Half the time they report anything that someone with initials after his name says, the other half of the time they ignore any statement that doesn’t fit into their preconceived viewpoint of who the source is and what they are supposed to think.

  32. A couple of years ago, I attended a lecture at Google by the guy who is in charge of making these tweaks. He said that every day he comes into his office and has to figure out a way to thwart some new hacker that has figured out how to game Google’s ranking algorithm. Last thing he needs is a clueless review political committee slowing him down.

    1. We’ll introduce competition into the system and control costs.

  33. I’d love to see companies faced with bullshit like this to just “Go Galt” i.e. take down the Google search engine and just tell the gov. and the nytimes to go fuck themselves

  34. Thanks for giving the libertarian perspective on this, which I agree with wholeheartedly. I’ve written my own analysis of the situation, as a search insider (I work at a program manager at Bing). I believe that search engines are naturally self-regulating and that its in their self-interest to be as agnostic as possible.

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