This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

June 10, 2010 - what would Google do?

Almost everybody uses Google, even librarians.

And it gets easier all the time. It used to be, if you wanted to find the location of the nearest chain restaurant, you would type in the restaurant name, then look for locations.

That still works. But now, on that golden first page of hits, you'll also find a map of the Denver or Douglas County area.

How does that happen?

The short answer is "geocoding of IP addresses." That is, your Internet provider can be identified; the ranges of Internet Protocol numbers can be matched up to a geographic location. Helpfully, Google gives you results that are customized to your region.

What helps you also helps Google. Their business model is simple: advertising pays the bills. Obviously, the more local the advertising, the more likely you are to take advantage of it, which benefits the local business, which justifies buying the ad.

But this may bear more thinking about. Let me restate the issue: a combination of location and advertising drives the "hits" on your search screen.

For instance, I recently heard about an example given by a national library speaker, one Stephen Abram. He's been doing the same searches on Google as he travels around the country. But he gets different results.

One of the search terms is "Obama." In one southern city, he reported, the first hit to come up was a paid link by a nearby "birther" site (questioning whether Obama was born in the United States). "Search optimization" is another way to say "manipulated results."

I also read an article whose title begins with "How Apple Could Slay Google ..." by Daniel Eran Dilger. In brief, he argues that Apple could shut down the Google monopoly simply by building ad blocking into its browser.

Over time, he writes, "this would rid the web of ads and turn content into a paid model much like what existed before the web destroyed print, periodicals and newspapers with low quality content framed by copious amounts of irritating, flashing ads that pay just enough to perpetuate themselves and starve out good content, but not enough to actually fund high quality writing, reporting and other content."

There is certainly a lot of "content" on the Web. But Dilger is right that a good deal of it is low quality, and sometimes considerably lower than many of the newspapers and magazines it seems, inexorably, to be replacing.

Meanwhile, more and more of us put our contacts, our calendars, and our correspondence "in the cloud." In the cloud means "not on our own computers, but on those belonging to commercial entities."

It's hard to see where the trend is going when you're in the middle of it. Or as I once heard a science fiction author say, once you hear about the automobile, anybody can imagine a superhighway system. But it takes a science fiction writer to imagine the traffic jam.

Email was a boon. Spam is a problem.

The trend is clear: we are "monetizing" our content, and the "market" has increasingly biased results.

It's a good thing we have counterweights to the commercialization of information. It's a good thing we have public alternatives, a way to leverage the cooperative purchasing power of our citizens to find content whose sole purpose isn't to probe our pockets for loose change.

It's a good thing we have libraries.

LaRue's Views are his own.

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