Google vs China, Capitalism vs Communism

Google is threatening to leave the Chinese market.  

Hackers attacked Google and one of the targets was the email accounts of chinese human rights activists.  Google has said they will no longer cooperate with Chinese censorship, but many have wondered why they ever agreed to do so in the first place.  They’ve lost all credibility in their supposed company policy of “do no evil”, but they’re apparently hoping to save their tarnished image.

In reality, Google cares little about human rights and censorship.  Google cares about profits and they’ve had losing profits in China because of all of the restrictions.  China may be the single largest market, but the costs of doing business there are very high.  Anyways, Google wasn’t directly concerned about the hacking of email accounts.  Google, instead, was concerned about the fact that hackers (probably working for China) were trying to steal information from Google including code.

Google…Now Serving Cowardliness (PIC)

I came across something on Digg:

Google…Now Serving Cowardliness (PIC)

A person made screenshots of Google suggestions.  They entered “christianity is”, “judaism is”, “buddhism is”, “hinduism is”, and “islam is”.  Google offered suggestions of popular search items for all of these except for the one pertaining to islam.  Supposedly, Google claims it is just a bug… but it’s a rather convenient bug.  Don’t want to anger the Muslims.

To be fair, I did some investigation with my own searches. 

With the first one, I entered “(religious founder) is” and Google did offer suggestion results for each of them (including Muhammad) except for when I entered “moses is”.  That is interesting because I’d think that many people would do websearches about Moses, the man who many consider the founder of all monotheism.

With the second one, I entered “christians are”, “jews are”, “buddhists are”, “hindus are”, and “muslims are”.  This time Google treated them all equally by giving not search suggestions at all.  I was curious whether it had to do with religion or fear of hate speech.  So, I entered “blacks are” and “whites are”.  These also showed no suggestions.  For the next step, I tried a few terms that are secular and not normally related to hate speech (or at least not politically incorrect hate speech): “scientists are”, “doctors are”, “lawyers are”, and “politicians are”.  All of these last search items brought up various suggestions.  I decided now to try something more broad: “americans are”, “canadians are”, “mexicans are”, and “iraqis are”.  No search suggestions.  Yet another: “cows are”.  Yep, suggestions.

What this proves is that Google is afraid of political incorrectness.  In our society, it’s fair game to make negative statements about professions and other general categories, but it isn’t acceptable to make negative statements about religious groups, racial groups, and cultural groups.

Let me try one last category.  I entered “atheism is” and Google offered search suggestions.  I then entered “atheists are” and Google offered no search suggestions. 

This last investigation clarifies a trend in all of these examples.  In our society, it is acceptable to make negative statements about most ideologies (excluding Islam of course) which is similar to how we think about professions.  However, any category that is less general and with which someone might more personally identify is off limits.  The interesting result of this is that using “is” as a search item will lead to more search suggestions than using “are”, or rather this is the case when doing a search about anything that potentially might be considered offensive.

Overall, what this proves is that Google edits what kind of phrases (and in some cases which particular phrases) are allowed to have search suggestions shown to the user.  This much is obvious as anyone can try this experiment out for themselves.  A more difficult experiment is how the search results themselves might have similar censorship or other biases.  I’ve noticed that search results don’t always reliably show you what is on the web.  Google has complex rules that website owners have to follow, and if they aren’t followed the website gets pushed out of top results.

How is the internet used?

Search Engines Are Source of Learning

ScienceDaily (Nov. 27, 2009) — Search engine use is not just part of our daily routines; it is also becoming part of our learning process, according to Penn State researchers.

The researchers sought to discover the cognitive processes underlying searching. They examined the search habits of 72 participants while conducting a total of 426 searching tasks. They found that search engines are primarily used for fact checking users’ own internal knowledge, meaning that they are part of the learning process rather than simply a source for information. They also found that people’s learning styles can affect how they use search engines.

“Our results suggest the view of Web searchers having simple information needs may be incorrect,” said Jim Jansen, associate professor of information sciences and technology. “Instead, we discovered that users applied simple searching expressions to support their higher-level information needs.”

Jansen said the results of this study provide useful information about how search engine use has evolved over the past decade and clues about how to design better search engines to address users’ learning needs in the future. He and Brian Smith, associate professor information sciences and technology and Danielle Booth, former Penn State student, published their findings in the November issue of Information Processing and Management.

“If we can incorporate cognitive, affective and situational aspects of a person, there is the potential to really move search performance forward,” Jansen said. “At its core, we are getting to the motivational elements of search.”

National Science Foundation and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research funded this research.

Digital Youth Project: If you care about kids and want to understand how they use technology and why, this is a must-read
Posted by Cory Doctorow, November 20, 2008 3:38 AM | permalink

The Digital Youth Project, a MacArthur-funded three year, 22 case study, $3.3 million ethnographic study of what kids are doing online, has wound up and published its results. The project was undertaken by the eminent sociologist Mimi Ito and her talented colleagues (including the incomparable danah boyd) and is the largest and most comprehensive study of young peoples’ internet use ever undertaken in the US.

The conclusions are sane, compassionate, and compelling: in a nutshell, the “serious” stuff we all hope kids will do online (researching papers and so on) are only possible within a framework of “hanging out, messing around and geeking out.” That is to say, all the “time-wasting” social stuff kids do online are key to their explorations and education online.

Ito and her team establish a taxonomy of social activity, dividing it first into “peer-driven” and “interest-driven” — the former being what kids do with their real-world friends, the latter being the niche interests that drive them to locate other people who are as fascinated as they are by whatever brand of esoterica they fancy.

Within these two categories, the researchers break things down further into “hanging out” (undirected, social activities), “messing around” (tinkering with media, networks and technologies) and “geeking out” (delving deep into subjects based on global communities of interest) and for each one, they describe the successful and unsuccessful techniques deployed by parents and educators to direct kids’ activities.

All this is explained in a crisp, 55-page white paper, a snappy two-pager, and a full-length book called (appropriately), “Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media.” All three are available as free downloads, naturally, and the book can also be purchased as a physical object in a year when it’s published.

This project is the best set of research-driven recommendations and observations about young peoples’ use of technology I’ve seen — it’s the perfect antidote to the scare stories of “internet addiction” and pedophiles stalking MySpace, and the endless refrain about “kids today.” If you care about kids and want to understand how they use technology and why, this is a must-read.

Two-pager, White paper, Book: Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out (download), Digital Youth homepage

#2 posted by mwsmedia , November 20, 2008 11:59 AM

I’m keenly interested in reading the entire book, but I don’t want to do it on my computer, and I figure a lot of other folks might feel the same way… so I created a PDF version.

I also made an Open Office ODT version for easy conversion to other formats, if you like.

Find PDF and ODT versions of “”Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media” at



My Brain On Google

Here is a blog post from Matt Cardin in which he responds to an article from The Atlantic (Is Google Making Us Stupid? by  Nicholas Carr).  I agree that the internet alters cognitive functioning, but I don’t see this as problematic.  I’m old enough to have grown up reading books.  I didn’t even become all that involved with computers until my late 20s.  I now spend much time on the internet and it has changed how I think, but it hasn’t made me think any less deeply.  In fact, it has caused my thinking process to be even more complex.

I could see how some people might have a different experience.  I suspect my brain is particularly suited for internet in two ways.  I naturally think in non-linear connections.  Also, I remember facts in terms of connections… meaning my rote memory absolutely sucks.  The internet helps my mind to operate optimally.  However, for someone with a more linear focused mind (or someone who is easily distracted and for some silly reason wishes to be more productive), the internet might be the bane of their existence.

For me, the internet hasn’t fundamentally altered my behavior in reading books (other than allowing me to discover new books I’d never have known about otherwise).  But I do sometimes find myself oddly trying to use an imaginary cursor to click on printed text (it doesn’t work).  Fortunately, I  have an electronic dictionary that helps me at such times (interestingly, my looking up words has increased immensely since buying this electronic dictionary).  Anyhow, I spend as much time reading text in printed form as I do reading text on a screen.  Maybe I’m lucky.  I have a job that allows me the time to read books (while disallowing me to get on the internet).  And I have a friend who likes to sit around reading books when we hang out.

To me, books and the internet are complementary.  I just love information and language, and it doesn’t matter to me about the format.  I can skim information very quickly across multiple websites and I can sit for hours reading a massive book.  Both are useful and enjoyable.

Anyways, it is rather ironic that people discuss on the internet such issues as the problems of the internet.  There is Carr’s article that hyperlinked to several other articles, blogs, and a research paper.  Matt Cardin (along with probably hundreds or thousands of others) hyperlinked to the article through blogs, articles, discussion boards, and emails.  And Cardin also hyperlinked to another article thus creating a conceptual link that his readers could follow (which has greater impact than a footnote in a printed text).  Other bloggers (such as my self and Quentin S. Crisp) then link to the writings of  those who linked to the article.  So, a world-wide discussion grows into a complex web of ideas and related discussions.  Without the internet (including the wonders of Google), such far-reaching discussions of cultural import simply wouldn’t happen.  In the past, people were mostly just passive receivers of information.  But now such information has become interactive.  I’d guess this increases the intelligence of the average reader.

I consider Carr’s article to be nonsense with a catchy title.  For God’s sake, there is even a Wikipedia article about it (which by the way is longer and more edifying than the article itself and which I found through a Google search).  Here is a quote that supports the conclusion I came to in the previous paragraph:

Carr’s essay was widely discussed in the media both critically and in passing. While English technology writer Bill Thompson observed that Carr’s argument had “succeeded in provoking a wide-ranging debate”,[3] Damon Darlin of The New York Times quipped that even though “[everyone] has been talking about [the] article in The Atlantic magazine”, only “[s]ome subset of that group has actually read the 4,175-word article, by Nicholas Carr.”[28] The controversial online responses to Carr’s essay were, according to Chicago Tribune critic Steve Johnson, partly the outcome of the essay’s title “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, a question that the article proper doesn’t actually pose and that he believed was “perfect fodder for a ‘don’t-be-ridiculous’ blog post”; Johnson challenged his readers to carefully consider their online responses in the interest of raising the quality of debate.[4]

Many critics discussed the merits of Carr’s essay at great length in forums set up formally for this purpose at online hubs such as the Britannica Blog and publisher John Brockman’s online scientific magazine Edge, where the roster of names quickly took on the semblance of a Who’s Who of the day’s Internet critics.[29][30][31][32] Calling it “the great digital literacy debate”, British-American entrepreneur and author Andrew Keen judged the victor to be the American reader, who was blessed with a wide range of compelling writing from “all of America’s most articulate Internet luminaries”.[32]

I’ve criticized Google some recently because of biases in it’s search results, but overall I’ve been satisfied with it as a tool for gathering information… although I no longer use it as my sole search engine.  I’m of the opinion that search engines in general are just awesome.  I sometimes even end up perusing online books I already own (such as with Google books) because I can search the books quickly and find exactly what I’m looking for.  I would say that if you’re feeling a bit stupid don’t blame Google.

Search Engines: biases and problems

I had a recent post disappear from listing on Word Press and shortly after it disappeared almost entirely from search engine results as well.  The post only managed to remain as a shadow in Google results in the form of indirect links and some cached pages of when Word Press had listed it, but it disappeared without a trace in Yahoo results.  The last time I checked it never even showed up at all in other search engines.  This got me wondering how search engines work.  Both Google and Yahoo had originally shown and cached the direct link to the post, and so their web crawlers had already discovered it.  However, when it disappeared from Word Press listing the search engines followed suit.  Were the web crawlers no longer able to see my post even though Google and Yahoo previously had the direct link to it?

Also, I’d noticed in the past that the search engines seem to treat the various blogging sites differently.  For a while, I had several blogs going on several hosting sites because I was testing them out.  I was posting the exact same things to each of them, but I often noticed that the My Opera blog often showed up higher in search results than my other blogs.  Now, I use only Word Press because I like its functionality the best.  This recent event, however, made me wonder how often my posts might not show up at all in search results. 

To test it out, I did a search of a blog title that was posted when I was using all of the blogging sites.  In Yahoo search results, only the My Opera post was given a direct link and the other posts such as from Word Press only were given indirect links through the blogs home link, through tag listings, or through other websites’ hyperlinking.  Google gave very different results which gave direct links to the postings on all of the blogging sites, but put Word Press as the top result.  Did Google put Word Press on top because it’s the only blog of mine that is active right now?  If so, why did Yahoo give preference to My Opera which I haven’t used in recent months?  Also, why didn’t Google show direct links to my recent disappeared post on Word Press? 

I did another comparison search between Google and Yahoo using a different early post of mine.  This time Google showed the direct links to my posts on all of the blogging sites except it left out the direct link to the Word Press post.  Yahoo, for some reason, didn’t show a direct link to my post on any of the blogging sites, but did show several indirect links.  As a further experiment, I did a search of the Word Press web address for that post and it doesn’t show up at all in either Google or Yahoo.

Another question that comes to mind is the matter of the biases of search engines.  Do search engines filter their results to fit my past searches?  I’d be fine if they do this as long as they tell me they’re doing this.  And to what degree does advertising and vested interests influence results?  Furthermore, what about the government?  Covert government sites get erased from Google Earth for example.  It wouldn’t surprise me if they don’t simply erase those sites but even replace them with natural looking terrain so that no one would realize something was missing.  It is without a doubt that the government censors some information on the internet.  The question is what kind of information and how often? 

But not everything is nefarious or intentional.  Quite possibly, my disappeared posting was just a glitch.  So, how typical are such technical failures?  If a search engine doesn’t show something as existing, how does someone know it exists?  Even if someone knows it exists and even know an exact title or phrase, how do they seek it out if search engines aren’t helpful?  Do traces remain of disappeared, removed, and lost information?  How can someone recognize a trace of something once having existed or still existing unseen?  How often can those traces lead someone to finding the information?

The first example that made me aware of problems with search engines had to do with the fairly popular writer Acharya S.  She comes up a lot on the internet.  She was partly involved with the heavily watched Zeitgeist film which created the biggest buzz on the internet than any other web realeased film before.  She runs a website that has tons of useful info about her field of expertise.  There really is no other website that is even close to being comparable if you’re interested in researching the subject of astrotheology.  However, when in the past I did a direct “in quote” Google search for the name of her website, I didn’t find it in the top results.  The direct link to her website only showed up several pages beyond the first page of results.  The first several pages were filled with her detractors and other websites linking her website.  If I do a Google search for an exact title, why doesn’t it give me the most exact result right at the top?  Why does it give pages of indirect links before showing the direct link itself?

Are there search engines that give you more control instead of feeding you the info it thinks you want?  Is there a search engine that is upfront and transparent about its biases?