Internet and Democracy

When reading this week’s article there were two topics that really grabbed my attention: WikiCrime and Search engine optimization.

Taking a look at the WikiCrimes website (http://www.wikicrimes.org/main.html), the first thing that struck me was the simplicity of the site.  There is only one page which contains just the map and links to some popup windows that lay over the site.  Reading the “about us” and “what is” information popups describes the history of the project, but more interesting to me was the comparisons of the service to Wikipedia.  This earlier crowdsourcing project has always faced skepticism toward its credibility even though it has in place fact checking moderators to monitorthe veracity of the posted information.  WikiCrimes is disadvantaged due to the higher difficulty involve in fact checking its particular type of data.  I did notice, however, that in order to report a crime a contributor must log into account.  This system may not help with the prevention or quick removal of misinformation, but it should at least make it easier to hold those who post false crimes accountable for their abuse of the system.  It is important that project designers keep credibility in check so that our society can continue to reap the benefits of crowdsourcing projects like the Folding@Home project on the Playstation 3 and the text capture project that can be found when trying to sign up with almost any website.

Search engine optimization caught my attention in this week’s reading because it applies to my research interests.  I firmly believe that the internet, and more specifically the participatory culture of Web 2.0, can change the ways in which knowledge is produced and distributed.  The practice of search engine optimization, however, allows knowledge controlling institutions, like large corporations, to effectively squash the probability of finding bottom-up ideas (knowledge produced by the citizenry as opposed to the institutions) that may counter knowledge produced by the institutions.  While I am sure that the concept of SEO and the creation of companies that specialize in the service originated to help individuals and smaller groups get noticed in the large crowded realm of the internet, it has regrettably become employed by large companies that already possess power in the dissemination of ideas and knowledge.  It is because of this that I was surprised to see that Google offers advice on SEO and how to properly implement it (http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=35291).  But then again, Google has also surprised me with some of their other recent announcements.  Net neutrality anyone?

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Comments
8 Responses to “Internet and Democracy”
  1. Yes, it can be creepy, but I do appreciate when Google anticipates what I’m looking for. I don’t have a problem with search engine optimization. I think it’s a fair game because everyone knows the rules of play. If organization A chooses to spend its resources getting one of the top spots, while organization B doesn’t, both deal with the consequences. Pepsi can pay for an ad agency that produces more eye-catching spots than Faygo can. Pepsi can pay for a wider distribution than Faygo or most anyone can, too. Plus, if ever Google would take it to such an extreme that search results were far-skewed or even invalid, people would stop using Google and find a new search engine. I don’t think the Federal U.S. Treasury has put Google on its list of “too big to fail” yet.

  2. Search Engine Optimization was something I had also flagged when reading the Morozov article. It seemed to me that the Google advice page was a way for Google to try to distance themselves from SEO companies. Like a caveat to people saying “Don’t think SEO companies are paying us to bump up your site/hide bad reviews.” “You are never guaranteed number one ranking on google.

    It’s scary that through a ‘shadow’ domain the SEO company has the power to shut down your entire site if you stop doing business with them.

  3. caseyawilson says:

    I think that the tension between wanting large amounts of information on a given subject and needing some sort of fact-checking is going to be a long-term concern for crowdsourcing. (At least crowdsourcing that relies on facts and figures; creative projects such as ChartJackers have more flexibility in how they approach their submissions — though they too have to sort the wheat from the chaff.)

    As you state, making a user account a requirement offers a sort of accountability that might allow these projects to continue on. Fake accounts will always be an issue, but those can be mediated more easily than anonymous tips. Hopefully, anyway. I will be curious to see if these projects develop a new method of filtering information that would be more efficient as time goes by.

    (As an aside — I believe we’re teamed up for the topic presentation. Looking forward to it!)

  4. sadiecone10 says:

    Donny:
    Like you, I found the idea of search engine optimization to be concerning because of its controlling nature. It is my opinion that all of information, whether it be good or bad, should be made available to all citizens through the Internet. I’m interested in hearing your thoughts in future class discussions regarding net neutrality.

  5. The SEO issue is a tricky one because, yes, as you point out, it’s something that potentially anyone can make use of to aid in their web site’s visibility, but there are so many companies that have risen offering SEO services that it ensures that companies who can purchase their services will rise to the top – in this case, literally, the top of the search page.

    I wasn’t sure what your brief mention at the end of Google’s SEO page was getting at, though: Pleasant or not-so pleasant surprise? I mentioned it in my blog as well, pointing to it as a positive document that provides a fair amount of information regarding the implementation of SEO for anyone happening to read the document – which can be found easily in a Google search. If such a page encouraging knowledge about the use of SEO in fact appears to have been optimized itself so as to be easily found through a search engine, here we see a potential example of democratic information sharing, and information that, in turn, could enable the “little guy” to compete against the giants. There will always be a tool for success that is mastered by some and then sold to the advantage of others, but if there is still information being distributed about how to master those tools, the cause isn’t lost.

  6. WikiCrimes is a pretty cool idea, and a legitimate topic for this blog post. We will explore crowdsourcing further in a later class.

    I’d never heard of the Folding@Home project (http://folding.stanford.edu/) — it reminds me of SETI@home (http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/).

    When you said “the text capture project that can be found when trying to sign up with almost any website,” did you mean CAPTCHA?

    http://www.captcha.net/

    Your link to Google’s SEO page is a good one, although another student had already posted it. I wonder whether you think that user-generated tags and folksonomies offer a suitable counter-balance to corporate SEO tactics.

  7. francescalyn says:

    This was a very interesting post for me to read because I am currently a social media intern for a small company. I think that SEO is an incredibly fascinating subject, I hope we can discuss things related to it in class. However, I think a lot of these practices do not take into account how savvy consumers actually are. Things like brand authenticity still matter and a lot of people are discerning enough to realize that (at least with commercial good and/or services) the people that you find at the top of a search engine probably paid to be there.

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