A Call for Openness in Search

January 24, 2020

DarkCyber understands that if one cannot “find” something, that something does not exist for most people who look for the “something.” This is not a statement from Grasshopper or a tablet unearthed outside of Athens. Finding is required in order to do work or — as a matter of fact — anything in a digital environment.

Opening Up Search Is an Ethical Imperative” presents an argument for opening up search. “Opening up” appears to mean that Google’s grip on ad supported search and retrieval is broken. The write up states:

This is a shocking state of affairs given search’s ubiquitous impact on human well-being. And no I don’t think I’m overreaching. Search might mean a doctor diagnosing a patient with tricky symptoms. Bad search results might have life or death consequences. E-Commerce isn’t about buying pointless frivolities. It’s increasingly society’s economic glue. We no longer call on someone in sales to describe our needs verbally. Instead we request via the e-commerce search bar. Add job search, dating search, enterprise search, food delivery, grocery, legal, real estate, and so on, and you get a picture where search is indeed eating the world. What human activity will exist that won’t involve a search bar?

The statement is accurate. In the context of the article, search also means looking for information on a public facing Web site, not just locating a pizza restaurant or checking the weather. Here’s another statement we noted:

As users are reaching more-and-more for search, supporting the community collectively helps ensure positive outcomes for society as a whole. We’ll collectively help doctors find the right diagnosis for a suffering patient; support a purchasing agent find the right parts for an airplane they’re manufacturing; uplift lawyers seeking to hold the powerful accountable by helping them find solid legal precedent for their arguments.

Again, an accurate observation.

The article includes a list of suggestions for companies and others; for example, Do open source correctly and create search talent.

Several observations:

  • For most people, including those in organizations, search occurs on mobile devices. Either form factor or the location in which the user runs the search is not conducive to the “library style” of information retrieval and review. The habituation to mobile and on the fly searching is going to be difficult to change. As my eighth grade teacher said, “Habits are like a soft bed: Easy to get into and hard to get out of.” Her grammar may have been questionable, but her comment applies to search today.
  • You can learn more about the “open everything” initiative in the DarkCyber video news program which will become available on January 28, 2020. A former CIA professional reveals his commitment to “open everything.” The remarks may spark some fresh thinking.
  • The introduction of the word “ethical” into the article raises some interesting questions; namely, “In today’s environment, what does ‘ethical’ mean? This is a surprisingly difficult word to define across contexts.

To sum up:

  • There are different search and retrieval systems. Some are ignored like Qwant; others are misunderstood because they are metasearch systems; still others are proprietary systems swathed in buzzwords like artificial intelligence and machine learning; and even more are “sort of” open source like Amazon’s search system which was influenced by defectors from Lucid Imagination, now LucidWorks. Plus there are other variations. Search remains confusing and tangled in the shoe laces of worn out sneakers.
  • The dominance of Google means that Google is in charge of presenting information to people using computing devices. The market penetration in some countries is over 95 percent which is the reason that most estimates of search share beat the drum for marginal players like Bing, Qwant, and DuckDuckGo. The thinking is, “A percent or two of share means some money. But the money is not Google scale.”
  • Google is not about to change unless the search business is regulated, Google implodes which is possible but not in the next year or two, or billions of people change their “habits.”

Advertisers go where the eyeballs are. Money can alter the meaning of ethics. And that money issue may be the reason Web sites are not indexed comprehensively, US government Web sites are indexed infrequently and superficially, and why Google ignores certain types of content.

Stephen E Arnold, January 24, 2020



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