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In “Expressive bibliography: personal collections in public space”, Melanie Feinberg seems to convey that search engines provide unbiased, comprehensive Web resources on a certain subject. This claim is summarized well in the following quote:

Bibliography authors can provide a means of information access different from that of search engines, similar to the still-life artist, they can, through the combination of curatorship, citation, and classification, provide a directed filter that illuminates the vastness of the network with a new light. (19)

This brought several things to mind concerning Google as an entity:

  • The PageRank algorithm, while prevalent in our current Web society and technologically advanced, is prone to meddling and inaccuracy. Search Engine Optimization is a thriving industry. SEO practitioners utilize a number of techniques (some considered kosher, or part of good web design, and others considered unethical) to bump their clients’ Web resources higher in the Google rankings. A great example of an “unethical” use of SEO was the JCPenney scandal, wherein hundreds of fake web sites were created that linked back to the JCPenney site, thus pushing JCPenney to the top of the pile for a number of search terms (dresses, lamps, other items sold at JCpenney). While Google cracked down on JCPenney and “punished” them by pushing their results into no-man’s-land, it’s difficult to ascertain how widespread these “black hat” techniques are, and how they are shaping our experiences of the Web.
  • Google is a corporation that is very intent on maintaining its identity as a “brand.” When the Language Council of Sweden attempted to add the word “ungoogleable” (ogooglebar in Swedish) in 2012, Google stepped in and demanded that changes be made to show that Google is a registered trademark. It would not be a stretch to assume that the level to which Google is intent on curating its own image does not trickle down, in some way, to the curation of its search results as well.

These things show that despite the much larger scale of its collections in comparison to the collections of single bibliographic authors, it is still in many ways “a directed filter that illuminates the vastness of the network with a new light.” In other words, I do not believe that Google, much less any corporation, can provide a truly unbiased and comprehensive collection of resources.


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