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Opening the black box: The social construction of search engines Astrid Mager HUMlab, Umeå University/ Sweden Wits School of Arts, University.

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Presentation on theme: "Opening the black box: The social construction of search engines Astrid Mager HUMlab, Umeå University/ Sweden Wits School of Arts, University."— Presentation transcript:

1 Opening the black box: The social construction of search engines Astrid Mager HUMlab, Umeå University/ Sweden Wits School of Arts, University of the Witwatersrand/ Johannesburg, March 2011

2 HUMlab founded in 1997/ 2000 (studio space) meeting place for the humanities, culture and information technology/ Umeå University, Sweden „digital humanities“ – work at the intersection of computing/ new media & humanities (social sciences) / Patrik Svensson International collaboration/ 2 year postdoc fellowships

3 Googlization of Everything? (Vaidhyanathan) © Joel Saget/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images Microsoft

4 Critique of search engines/ focus on implications - „Googlepoly“ (Pasquinelli) / gatekeeper of knowledge -Algorithm: ordering of knowledge based on popularity/ scientometrics (Mayer) -Business Model „service for profile“/ surveillance (Elmer/ Rogers) ©

5 Opening the Black Box i)How are search engines socially constructed? - Who are the dominant actors shaping the technology? - What interests do they follow & what implications result from that? - What is expected from the future? ii) What „information politics“ do search engines trigger? - How do search engines present, hierarchize, display their results? - Who succeeds in the battle for attention? - What broader consequences does this ordering mechanism trigger?

6 Analysis I

7 Analysis II

8 Social construction of technology (SCOT) Basic idea: Innovation is not a linear process, but involves complex negotiations of actors/ interests „Ordinary bicyle“ back then & now – how did this happen? Stabilization in actor-network of engineers, different types of cyclists & industry – within the societal context of the emancipation of women => Innovation develops in the context of economic & social relationships/ within society © Skoda Museum, Chech Republic, photo by: Agnieszka Kwiecień Nova

9 Core Actor-Network

10 Universities Start-Ups Server FarmsWebsites SEO Money Interests Skills Technology

11 Economic relations Universities Start-Ups Server FarmsWebsites SEO Money Interests Skills Technology

12 Economic relations Universities Start-Ups Server FarmsWebsites SEO Money Interests Skills Technology Business Model Brand Value Advertising Spamming User Profiles Feed-Back

13 Tensions & Negotiations information retrieval: "more data means better results" engineer: „that improves the quality of the information (...) and makes your site actually more valuable“ critical scholar: „ahm, yeah, I use Google constantly and I do love it, (...) it is a great search engine for giving me what I want“

14 Tensions & Negotiations politics: "it clearly concerns the business and they don't deny that" SEO: „I mean there is dirty things you can do to make your website more prominent“ critical scholar: „that’s to worry, that’s information we would not wanna have a state to have of us“

15 Information society/ economy Competitors Search Engines Facebook, Twitter & co. Mobile Technology Contracts User Data

16 Information society/ economy Media Activists Hacker Open source community China Street View Competitors Search Engines Facebook, Twitter & co. Mobile Technology Contracts Education Civil society Alternatives User Data

17 Information society/ economy Legislation Politics Nation states EU UNO FTC Media Activists Hacker Open source community China Street View Competitors Search Engines Facebook, Twitter & co. Mobile Technology Consumer/ Data Protection Contracts Education Civil society Alternatives User Data

18 Information society/ economy Legislation Politics Nation states EU UNO FTC Media Activists Hacker Open source community China Street View Competitors Search Engines Facebook, Twitter & co. Mobile Technology Consumer/ Data Protection Contracts Education Civil society Alternatives New Actor? Controlling Institution Foundation data protection Mediator Custodian User Data

19 First conclusions SCOT perspective shows that search technology is developed/ shaped/ stabilized in a complex actor-network  Search engine may be seen as a location where societal values are negotiated Core network is dominated by an economic logic – political, legal, cultural actors stabilize the actor-network through inaction  Incorporates the ideology of the information economy/ capitalist society  Search engine bias/ „exploitation of collective intelligence“ (Pasquinelli)/ commercialization of knowledge

20 Future developments? Not enough to blame the „Googlepoly“ (Pasquinelli)  understand the mechanisms behind power creation and stabilization  understand that we are all part of the picture Future is not set  open to debate and potential social intervention Questions to ask: Do we really want to leave the task of „organizing the world‘s information“ to a private firm with a clearly commercial agenda? Who else could/ should take part in the shaping of search technology/ the culture of search/ our access to knowledge/ construction of social reality? How could we – as a society – strengthen these actors & their interests?

21 Further info/ contact Thanks for your attention!


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