Discussion session 2: Googlization

With: Siva Vaidhyanathan, Martin Feuz  and Esther Weltevrede

Moderated by Andrew Keen.

Society of the Query

Moderator: Why does no one talk about money?

Vaidhyanathan: Google only loses money. They have an interest to keeping people interacting with the Web. As long as you are interacting with the web, they can track you via cookies and that puts more data in their database. It is a clear but third degree connection for creating revenue. It also has interest in data- and text accumulation. It hopes to create a real text-based search. In terms of Google search; global and local are not really put to for example; Google books. This already biases the search results.

Weltevrede: It also depends on your perspective on Google. For me it is interesting to see how it works. How does it organize and present the information we get.

Vaidhyanathan: nobody is going to Google for the ads.

Audience (at Weltevrede): you were depending on the Google translation results?  Isn’t that tricky?

Weltevrede: indeed,  Google Translate is still in beta version. However, human rights is such an important term that one can assume that it is translated well.

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Audience: how about methods? It is difficult to pose yourself against the machine. All of us here agree that searching sucks and that Google is bad and commercial. So I’d like to have some reflection on methods in order to be critical against searching and how they relate to your research?

Vaidhyanathan: Google is hard to study in traditional way. I do my best to keep to fuzzy, flabby arguments of narrative and argument. Opacity is the problem of Google. You cannot research is without using it. You risk becoming a banned user. You have to warn Google about your research, in which you may alter the results.

Weltevrede. I agree, I want to add that you can study the inner workings by looking at output, you can tell a lot about that

Feuz: it is an attempt to look at temporal relations: You have to try and fund ways to be able to ask these questions.

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Moderator; What I do not understand is the connection between the most opaque company ever which are still fetishing transparency.

Vaidhyanathan: it does not fetishize it; it leverages it. We do the work for Google, we provide the information and content Marx would scream at this notion. We are all very happy to do it (user-generated content). It is a better environment than we used to. However, we have to grasp the workings. Maybe we are very content with our relation to Google.

Weltevrede: it is also what building tools you can get out of Google. You can make use of the giant – building on Google; let Google work for us again.

Manovich (audience): I have difficulty to see your (Feuz’s and Weltevrede’s) results as research. What is the sample size? Where is the statistical data? You haven’t looked at the interdependencies of the variables? So what kind of science is this? If these things are not clear, these results are not meaningful.

Feuz: there is a difference between types of research. In the kind of research I did, I worked 4 month in a team gathering data. The amount of data we needed was already overwhelmingly large. You have to keep in mind that the thing is really temporal.

Vaidhyanathan (at Manovich): Is it not very expensive what you do? How can you do this?

Manovich: Most things are done in open source software and only takes five minutes.

Rogers (audience): Responds to the question by Manovich on what kind of science this is: it is diagnostics! Are local Googles furnishing local sources? It is a kind of critical diagnostics to see how Google works, and to see at the implications.

Manovich: Is it then issue exploration to be followed by hypothesis?

Moderator: I live in Silicon Valley, There is more skepticism there about Google. They cannot fight the real-time twitter economy. What is the relevancy of Google right now? What are your thoughts about this? Will it remains strong?

Vaidhyanathan: I am very bad at predicting. For the sake of my book, I hope they stay relevant? The rapid changes of Google have made me realize I must not write about current companies anymore. You have to keep in mind, though, that the real time web is not that connected (yet). So much of what Google tries to do is to satisfy the Cosmo-elite because this group makes the choices and the critics. What are the initiatives that Google has in India, China and Brazil? That is a more relevant development to look into.

Feuz; we researchers cannot cope with the patterns of change – they can adopt fast, so they will survive.

Society of the Query