Monday, October 11, 2004

It's nice to know it's all there...

Reading Pennenberg's piece in Wired News, I recalled some of the blogger reaction to a piece I wrote in the Times' Week in Review section a while ago on Google's strengths and weaknesses. Among other things, I pointed out that:

"When you search for a common item like "ford" or "baseball," the engines naturally give the highest rankings to major sites that are linked to by hundreds or thousands of other pages. But when searches are more specific � whether "second superpower" or "Sinatra arrangers" � the rankings will mirror the interests of the groups that aggregate around particular topics: the bloggers, experts, hobbyists and, often, the crackpots...

"From the standpoint of the search engines, however, this is all as it should be. The beauty of the Web, after all, is that it enables us to draw on the expertise of people who take a particular interest in a topic and are willing to take the trouble to set down what they think about it. In that sense, the Web is a tool that enables people who have a life to benefit from the efforts of those who don't."

This for some reason was taken as an attack on the blog world by a number of bloggers, who reacted indignantly, all the more because the Times itself didn't make its archives accessible to the spiders. See, for example, this. And that charge was taken other bloggers who read the description of the piece in that blog, but didn't actually look it up. In fact a writer in the Observer charged me with "fulminat[ing]...that whenever one does a Google search on any topical issue, the top page rankings often go to blogs rather than established media sources (such as the New York Times )." But he indicated that he hadn't actually gone to check the piece -- "Big Media sources increasingly are ... locked behind pay-for firewalls. (As with Nunberg's little rant, which I have just tried to re-read - and been invited to pay $2.95 for the privilege.)"

I'm used to being misread and misquoted -- that comes with the territory. But in this case, the fact that the Times kept its archives behind a firewall entailed that people couldn't or wouldn't check the original, so based their comments on someone else's description of what you said. (I post copies of these pieces to my own Web pages, but most people wouldn't think to look there.) Since then, though, the Times has made a back door to its archives accessible to bloggers -- not a moment too soon, if you ask me.

2 Comments:

Blogger yardi said...

Interesting discussion that follows on Doc Searls blog!

I particularly liked the comment from Christopher Coulter - "Bottom line: Information costs money. If the Bloggers/Google don't grasp that there is a real problem of noise and pollution, then people will go elsewhere. Far more churning rambling conspiracy theories out on the web than real authoritative information. You get what you pay for."

I have to agree with him in this case, at least about getting what you pay for. I don’t see why Doc Searls has such a beef with news archives charging for people to look at them. I would loosely compare surfing Google to walking down the street and reading billboards on street corners (or fliers in Sproul Plaza). You’re going to get whatever crap people decide to put up there. If you don’t like it or don’t believe it, buy a subscription to LexisNexis. Equivalently, go into the corner bookstore and buy a book. There is no reigning God of the Internet who decided that Google is the supreme being out there that we should all bow down to.

Maybe this comes back to the previous blog discussion where Judd said “But I think that more than anything it has become a crutch for what amounts to laziness and satisficing on the part of the public.”

Perhaps if the public really cared about intellectual information from quality sources (whatever the heck those may be) then Google wouldn’t have taken over the web and instead something like LexisNexis would have. I wouldn’t blame news sources for not providing free access to archives, I’d blame us, the lazy and ignorant (but blissful) public.

11:45 AM  
Blogger Joseph Lorenzo Hall said...

I think Doc's pissed because posts of his from the past become useless as the new article sources he's linked to no longer work. To avoid this, he can quote passages... but then you're risked (c) infringement and a longer post (which people won't read).

2:41 PM  

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