This posting was also published as an editorial in the February issue of The Information Advisor. Please let me know your reaction and thoughts:
In an Op-ed piece published in December 28th 2009 issue of the New York Times, (www.nytimes.com/2009/12/28/opinion/28raff.html) Adam Raff argues that Google’s results are biased towards promoting its own information services, and that concern, along with the search engine’s ability to “penalize” a firm’s ranking in its search results, should make us all think about expanding the concept of Internet access neutrality to “search neutrality” as well.
While we are not convinced about the specific Google bias argument, (in fact some of our tests seem to have disproven Raff’s allegations) the author does make an important larger point . That is, how do we all ensure that any private entity, whether it’s today’ Google, a future Google with different ownership and priorities, or any other firm that captures the vast majority of the search market, does not limit or unfairly skew our ability to fairly access information?
Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia fame tried creating an “open source” search engine, called Wikia Search that relied to a large degree on user contributions. We reviewed Wikia Search in The Information Advisor in 2008 and found that it did not work very well at all, and in fact the experiment was ended in Spring 2009.
What led Wales to try this though was worth considering. He believed that this “future of Internet search”, as it sees it, needs to be guided by are four organizing principles:
Transparency – Openness in how the systems and algorithms operate, both in the form of open source licenses, and in open content and APIs
Community – The ability of everyone to contribute in some way (as individuals or entire organizations), along with a strong social and community focus
Quality – An effort to significantly improve the relevancy and accuracy of search results and the searching experience
Privacy – The need to protect privacy and the commitment to not store or transmit any identifying data
Here’s another idea: what about the concept of some research towards the creation of a publicly funded search engine? An “NPR for search” could at least be one place we could all turn to and know that the organization’s primary goal is not to earn a profit
The answer to these questions about our reliance on privately owned search engines is not obvious, but recognition of the potential problem and a public discussion is the vital first step.
What do you think?