Search Take II

On the 25th August 2014 Stuart Jeffries wrote an article called ‘How the web lost its way’, which was published in the Guardian (G2 section).  I recommend reading it.  My blog is based around some thoughts within Jeffries article.

Sir Tim Berners Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, leads the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). One of the principles the W3C lives by is “The social value of the Web is that it enables human communication, commerce, and opportunities to share knowledge”. I interpret this as being free to move around the web to engage in the principle described above.

Jeffries essentially argues the ideological vision Sir Tim Berners Lee had of the Internet and indeed the web (not the same thing I recently leaned) is being destroyed by proprietary strategies employed mainly by corporations and an increasing loss of privacy mainly driven by government.

Taking a look at companies, Facebook, Twitter, increasingly Amazon and many others all want you, the user, to spend time with them. Stay on their websites. Give them your information. Jeffries argues and I agree, in many cases you’re no longer the user, you’re the product.

During the mid 90’s and beyond we’ve seen capitalism in action, quickly, with regards to on-line based companies. Indeed, those large companies and corporations, being in infinite search of profit and market share, are killing the essence of Sir Tim’s vision through their strategies of ‘owning’ the user. Yet capitalism should be a force for good. I say this, as my view of capitalism is that’s its there to a) create jobs and b) improve living standards for society as a whole by redistribution of wealth. It should support social mobility and bring us closer to wealth equilibrium, not further apart.

Why did Facebook admit conducting experiments on manipulating the positive / negative content of news feeds of hundreds of thousands of people? Maybe because they want to learn about behavior so they can predict what you’ll like. They can predict what will get your attention and therefore ‘click’. It almost appears they want to control your choices or already know what behavior you’ll conduct in return for cash from those they deliver you to.

Mark Zuckerberg, the famous CEO of Facebook, states he wants to ‘connect the world’ (21 Aug 2013). That sounds like a good mission, people across the globe talking and discovering different cultures is a good thing. However, he only wants us to do so using his site, Facebook. It’s kind of like a king or queen saying to their citizens ‘I want you to travel the world but don’t leave the country’. There is a clear paradox in the ideology and strategy employed. Anything with boarders or which is proprietary has limitations.

Maybe the mission really is ‘Connect the world through Facebook’.

Then there are governments. It’s been well reported that various government have requested information about individuals or groups of people from Google and more besides. Governments around the world just don’t have the ‘micro’ information by user nor have the data to assess behavioral patterns. 

There is clearly some good in sharing this data related to preventing illegal activity. The ongoing dilemma though is, where is the line which protects privacy, freedom of speech and indeed freedom vs. ensuring we can use available information to the best of our abilities to protect people? To me, that seems like a very difficult question to answer. I am not going to attempt to answer it here.

I think Sir Tim viewed the Internet and web as a mechanism to connect people, just as Mark Z states, only Sir Tim meant they should be free to roam and discover, not be stuck on one corner.

I agree with the notion that one should be free to browse. Google has around a 90% share of the search engine market in the UK. Is the search experience provided by ‘traditional’ search engines good enough for users now?

I am not so sure. Price comparison sites are a good example of new, niche’ search engines if you like. They focus on one product line and let the user compare before sending the user on their way by clicking through to the under lying provider. There are some very successful companies in Insurance, Travel, Property and more all in this space. It’s like a second generation of search engine.

How will Google react? They must recognize a danger in falling ad word revenues if smaller, product focused search / comparison sites appear. Are users behaviours changing? Do they see Google as a library for information rather than a signpost to a product? What about the rise of smart phones and App’s completely bypassing all search engines?

There are a lot of variables to consider.

I am finishing here with more questions than answers. I do think we’re on generation II of search but it’s only just beginning to unfold. I hope that as a ‘global village’ we stick to Sir Tim’s vision as closely as possible whilst maintaining freedom and at the same time, balancing our protection without privacy infringement.

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