Google Shift: Lamenting the Inevitable

February 5, 2012

The addled goose is recuperating. In the interstices between biological auto mechanics and the outputs of patient-hungry pharmaceutical companies, I browse content which gets lots of clicks. In the Lady Gaga Era, Mark Zuckerberg may not have her sense of fashion, but the lad does generate headlines. Not surprisingly, with the rise of the $100 billion Facebook and the Apple quarterly reports, one expects some reflection of the changes the Internet has manifested in the last five years. Remember. We are talking Internet time, which may not be dog years, but five years is a hefty chunk of a plugged in, tuned in, and wired up “expert.”

Here’s an example of a commons. Nice, right? A happy quack to Engage for a great visual metaphor.

For the goose, however, it is the same old cycle. I am tempted to trot out that college favorite Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and his fascinating The Difference Between Fichte’s and Schelling’s Systems of Philosophy. But I shall instead reference “It’s Not Whether Google’s Threatened. It’s Asking Ourselves: What Commons Do We Wish For?” Though somewhat more colloquial than Herr Hegel’s titles, the thought is an interesting one. The core of the idea is that that old Googzilla just ain’t what she used to be. Here’s the passage I noted:

I’m focused on trying to understand what the Internet would look like if we don’t pay attention to our core shared values. And it’s not fair to blame Apple, Facebook, Amazon, or app makers here. In conversations with various industry folks over the past few months, it’s become clear that there are more than business model issues stifling the growth of the open web.

The author has hooked this statement to what are described as “core values.” Hmm. The idea is that there is a greater good involved if the Internet (an undefined concept because I presume everyone knows what the word means) should embody “no gatekeepers,” “an ethos of the commons,” “no preset rules about how data is [sic] used,” and “interoperability.”

These are interesting points but the fact is that as I write this in my addled state on a dreary Sunday morning in the intellectually bankrupt Commonwealth of Kentucky, I wish to point out:

  1. Core values are tough to slap on the folks whom I know. I imaging venturing into a more intellectually enlightened place, getting folks to agree on care values might be tough. I am thinking about rounding up some bright lights in Syria, for example.
  2. There are gatekeepers, lots of them. The gatekeepers include various governmental entities, outfits like, Google and Twitter, and more coming on the bandwagon for “control” every day or so.
  3. The “commons” is another fascinating concept. My recollection is that the chestnut from English history is that the commons were trashed. A more up-to-date interpretation appears in the quirky Science Creative Quarterly’s “Tragedy of the Commons Explained with Smurfs.” If smurfs struggle, imaging what folks in Harrod’s Creek will do. By the way, the chief visual characteristic of this part of Kentucky is fences. Forget Robert Frost. Fences are a big deal for financial, social, and technological reasons.
  4. I find the notion of “no preset rules” intriguing. The fact is that there are many rules about how data are to be used. The fact that people do not follow the rules makes clear that the notion of sharing certain values does not fit in 2012. Most people have zero concept of the data which are available from commercial outfits and even less understanding of what makes systems like i2 and Recorded Future work so well. In today’s world, rules are put in place so that when there is a “justifiable cause”, action can be taken. Preset rules are the main business of those running governmental entities.

The “old” Internet has become a memory. My mother, God rest her soul, would use the past as a way to make the present come up short. I remember her telling me that when she was in school in the 1930s, students and teachers were somehow better than the teachers I had in 1950. I understand the importance of remembering the past. Opening an long unused box containing knickknacks my mother treasured can release molecules which take me back to the time when she was reminding me to pick up my socks.

The reality, however, is that as much emotion as memories convey, the real world is different and changing. Pining for the “old” Internet is an indulgence which is mentally satisfying on some level. Adopting a parental tone is part of today’s “mindset.” See, for example, Cognition in the Wild by Edwin Hutchins.

What’s this have to do with search? Here you go, gentle reader:

  1. Free, public search systems and some commercial online systems do not return objective, accurate information.
  2. Walled gardens are a consequence of the economic environment in which organizations exist. The fuzzy, warm notions of “freemium” seem quaint in the world of the 99 percenters.
  3. The evolution of online is toward consolidation and what I call a “logical monopoly.” The reason has to do with users who are reluctant to change once something becomes a habit. The other driving force is economic rationality. Who can afford to create a competitor to any of the monopolies which have formed or are now coalescing in online?

The net net is that some folks may not like today’s online world. Get used to it is my suggestion. The goose prefers pond water unsullied by mine drainage runoff. Guess what? Those pristine ponds are history, just like the good, old Internet.

Stephen E Arnold, February 5, 2012

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