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What is truth? or, the old patterns repeat

October 9, 2006

I was reflecting this morning on the news that Google had bought YouTube for $1.65bn. Now I remember when people had debates about which search engine they used, most people had several. Now the phrase google it is common place. Like Hoover before it, the brand name has replaced the functional description. We have industrial consolidation akin to that of Microsoft and IBM before it. What happened to the freedom of Web 2.0? The really scaring bit however was the tollowing:

“The YouTube team has built an exciting and powerful media platform that complements Google’s mission to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” Google chief executive Eric Schmidt said in a statement.

I wonder how the Chinese feel about that? Google are definately organising the information they receive. Its rather like Animal Farm: All animals are created equal but some are more equal than others. Also note the language – its straight out of the post aquisition corporate speak. No one leaves an aquisition alone, they just say that until they understand it enough to get stuck in and change it. Language leads to attitude ….

Nick Carr has a great blog which starts off “It’s funny how a set of instructions – an algorithm – written by people can come to be granted, by those same people, a superhuman authority.” He has discovered that searching for Marin Luther King gets you to a white supremacist group, and that no one in Google seems worried about it.

Information needs context, and that can only safely be provided by a variety of perspectives and interpretation. What you find when you search is not value neutral; it defines what you know and pay attention to. Remember the great irony of the organ of Stalinism: Pravda, it means truth and was originally founded by Trotsky as a dissident journal. Maybe google it will come to have the same ironic meaning sometime in the future. We can’t afford for one company (or any algorithm) to organise information for the world.

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