Define: Web Search, Semantic Dreams in the Age of the Engine

During my research internship at the Institute of Network Cultures in 2008/2009, I was given the opportunity to explore the broad field of Web search using the Institute’s elaborate network and the extensive knowledge of its staff, and to deliver an editorial outline for the Society of the Query conference. This research also culminated in an MA thesis in December 2009 that has recently become available for downloading at the Igitur Library of Utrecht University. Please find an abstract below, and a download link here.

Abstract: In 2000, Lucas Introna and Helen Nissenbaum argued that search engines raise not just technical, but distinctly ethical and political questions that seem to work against the basic architecture of the Web, and the values that allowed for its growth. Their article was the starting point of a critical Web search debate that is still gaining foothold today. When we consider the semantic metaphor that has been inspiring a refashioning of the Web architecture since 2001, we can see the exact same values of inclusivity, fairness and decentralization reappear that fueled the development of the original WWW. This thesis will explore the ‘promise’ of the Semantic Web in light of the current debate about the politics of Web search. I will argue that a balanced debate about Semantic Web developments is non-existent and that this is problematic for several reasons. Concluding the thesis, I will consider the dubious position of the W3C in enforcing the implementation of new standards and the power of protocol to be an ‘engine of change’.