Archive for November, 2005

Google bombs - Voice option and collective action

Freitag, November 11th, 2005

Typing in “Failure” as a keyword and regardless of pressing “Search” or “I am feeling lucky” this links directly to the biography of US President George Bush. Some time ago the same happened when someone typed in “weapons of mass destruction”. This is a “google bomb“. Furthermore, it is indirectly an example of global network building and collective action of website owners and bloggers based on a common idea or opinion.

What is a google bomb?
The term “Google bomb” basically describes a misapplication of knowledge on the Google’s search algorithms and results. Let’s take the example of “failure”. The US President’s biography website is neither about failure nor is the word failure used in the content. However, other websites linked the word failure to his website so it is not a political expression by google or its employees. Without going into much detail this mainly relates to some basic principles of the Google search logic and page ranking:

1. Links are essential to determine the rank/importance of a page
2. The page weight/importance (i.e. a university > personal website)
3. Topicality (How often a website is updated)
4. Other aspects related to web or blog content

Voice Option and Collective Action
Blogs and their links seem to play an increasingly important role as they are acting as millions of voters on webcontent or on various real world issues and events. In the desrcibed case this is a worldwide opposition on the policies of US President George Bush, probably mostly related to the war and occupation of Iraq. Drawing on Hirschman’s (1970) work on exit, voice and loyality we can indeed identify this as a new and emerging form of use of the voice option. Furthermore, the movement itself is an example of collective action and social network building. “Google bombs” also strengthen Wellmans (1996) argument that computer networks help forming social networks. Links, comments and emails could replace Feinberg&Johnson’s (1977, 1988, 1990) physical (”milling”) form of consensus building among crowds. However, this has yet to be proven. The question remains how people globally agreed on the term and adding the link to their website/blog. Was it supported by media reports? Pitcher et al (1978) , McAdam (1983) argued that protest activity first catches regimes off guard, and thus diffuses because of its success, and then is brought under control by social and other control mechanisms.

This raises some interesting questions: What can the internet community achieve with this form of voice? How will governments react to such movements of altering the search results in an unfavorable way in the future as knowledge becomes more important? How will search engine providers react? The easiest way to approach this would be to influence or enforce rules on search engine vendors. Hence, we could ask whether search engine providers need to be kept as autonomous as central banks with respect to knowledge? Further questions on “Deconstructing Google bombs: A breach of symbolic power or just a goofy prank” are raised by Clifford Tautum.

Knowledge is one of the key challenges of the 21st century. Knowledge creation and knowledge transfer will become one of the key questions to resolve. Thus, I would like to raise the attention of researchers to this emerging trend.