Search and Content Processing: Excess or Exception?

September 2, 2013

I read “From Example to Excess in Silicon Valley.” You can locate the write up in the Sunday, September 1, New York Times, in the business section on page 3. If the higher powers are on your side, this link may display the write, but no promises, not even for Pandas and Penguins.

Like many “real” journalism articles, I am not sure of the intellectual context nor the scythe the author has in his or her hands. I did note this snippet:

Popular social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr did not exist in the ‘90s, after all.

Okay. Got it.

The fact followed references to “wonderment”. Examples which triggered a Jonathan Edwards’ moment included the iPhone and Goog-411. The thrill is apparently gone. I read:

It feels as if the promise of the tech world — its utopian ideals and democratic aspirations — has dissolved into much more selfish pursuits of power and wealth.

The knowledge base for the author’s perception is Evgeny Morozov’s To Save Everything: Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism. I wonder if the author of the “Facebook and Tumblr did not exist” statement has read Jacque Ellul’s Work; for example, The Technological Bluff.

Like many of the “insights” and “innovations” which flow through my information stream, what is “new”?

Those who strike it rich spend their money, indulge themselves, and behave the way moguls have behaved for many years. Disagree with Commodore Vanderbilt you might have been punched in the head and then ostracized from the New York elite.

The most recent imbroglio for Google concerns the behavior of a Google founder. On a recent trip to San Francisco, I watched a big, weird sailboat rip past other vessels as a physical reminder that the founder of Oracle has a “real” sailboat. The frenzied behavior which I describe in my forthcoming Citizentekk article about “desperate housewives” describes how some of the high-tech executives to whom I am exposed conduct themselves.

What about search, analytics, and content processing?

Check out the claims from the vendors list in our “what’s happening service”, Overflight at,, or Scanning the news the companies are essentially marching in lock step. I am not sure if these companies are innovating.

I find the notion that technology is progress intriguing. On a recent trip to Portugal, I was with a group in a hill town in the Douro Valley. The town once had 2,400 inhabitants. Today, the town has 60 residents. But I took the picture below:


These Portuguese children were playing outside. No iPads. No smartphones. No rubber mats under plastic jungle gyms behind cyclone fences. The kids were not technological.

Technology has delivered what in countries like Portugal? Unemployment because aluminum feet now stomp on grapes. Massive debt as the country tries to cope with the flow of people from rural areas into cities strapped for cash.

For every fanciful indulgence of folks with oodles of cash, technology becomes an expensive way to solve problems which are decidedly slippery.

Leave the youthful millionaires and billionaires to their own devices. At some point the problem will go away. I am confident that Yahooligans and Googlers can mend rifts in Egypt and the suburbs of New Orleans. A new logo and augmented reality headgear are “progress.”

What about search? This slide from one of my 2011 reports continues to generate some email.


The blue line shows that the technology for processing content is not improving as quickly as marketers and pressurized executives fervently hope. Marketers assure the prospect about the wonders of search, content processing, and next-generation analytics.

The reality is that the flow of data is crating a very big gap. Today’s modern systems are not up to the job of doing even rudimentary processing of available digital content.

What’s worse that wretched excess? For me, organizations which continue to license systems which disappoint and often deliver misleading outputs are a more telling indicator of today’s technology problems?

Technology cannot solve problems when those who create it deliver me-too products, when those who procure it assume the “new” system is better, and when allegedly educated adults punch and swipe their way through work.

Excess part of the furniture of living for many with Silicon Valley dreams. The exceptions are far too rare in my opinion.

Stephen E Arnold, September 2, 2013

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