Sunday, June 19, 2005

Uh, wait a minute....

Google, the world's biggest media firm and established enough to have given birth to the word "googling" as slang for doing a web search, has decided that it's not satisfied just providing information: It wants to be able to make some claims about the reliability of that information.

As reported by the Guardian (UK) on Saturday, Google has filed several patents
planning to rank news stories according to their accuracy and reliability as well as their topicality.
Google News now links to 4,500 news sources from around the world while making no claim to their accuracy.

Now, the power of the web lies both in its ability to crosslink information and to a significant degree in its anarchic sensibilities - the "information yearns to be free" idea. Most anything and most everything can be found somewhere in some dusty corner of the web (to nicely mix my metaphor). But there is a downside to that: You can find yourself 1)overwhelmed with more information than you can collate, 2)drowning in references that are kind of like what you're looking for but not quite, and/or 3)with no way of telling if the information you've gotten is accurate or not short of plowing through every piece to make critical comparisons, which of course dumps you back in either state #1 or #2.

Considering some of the utterly wacko "scientific" claims I've found on the web, not only such as creationists but people who claim to have "positively refuted!" relativity or one that insisted the center of Earth's gravity was not at the center of the Earth but spread out over the surface of a spherical space surrounding the planet at a height of, if I recall, about 50 miles, a concern for accuracy is not an idle one. So at first blush, Google's plan seems like a good idea or at least a good tool to have available.

But - you knew that was coming - consider this:
Google is looking to develop technologies that factor in the amount of important coverage produced by a source, the amount of traffic it attracts, circulation statistics, staff size, breadth of coverage and number of global operations
in determining a story's ranking.

What's wrong with that? It means, in effect, that size equals reliability and accuracy. By these standards, the bigger a corporation is, the larger a media conglomerate it represents, the more dominant it is, the higher it's stories will rank in a listing that is supposed to reflect accuracy. Media giants, the very ones most likely to buy into a corporate-comfortable status quo, become, by virtue of their size, defined as bearers of truth.

So, for example, the Washington Post's disgraceful, deceitful, and dismissive smear of John Conyers' hearing about the Downing Street Memo - Dana Milbank's coverage included the phrases "a trip to the land of make-believe," Conyers "spouted ... chairmanly phrases," "dress-up game," "mock ... inquiry," "Conyers and his hearty band of playmates," and "fantasy" - would be considered reliable while Conyers' blistering response, which I only saw on Raw Story, would pretty much vanish because of the, by comparison, "unreliability" of the source.

This is not a good thing.

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