My latest Guardian column is "Google admits that Plato's cave doesn't exist," a discussion of how Google has changed the way it talks about its search-results, shifting from the stance that rankings are a form of pure math to the stance that rankings are a form of editorial judgment.
Google has, to date, always refused to frame itself in those terms. The pagerank algorithm isn't like an editor arguing aesthetics around a boardroom table as the issue is put to bed. The pagerank algorithm is a window on the wall of Plato's cave, whence the objective, empirical world of Relevance may be seen and retrieved.
That argument is a convenient one when the most contentious elements of your rankings are from people who want higher ranking. "We have done the maths, and your page is empirically less relevant than the pages above it. Your quarrel is with the cold, hard reality of numbers, not with our judgement."
The problem with that argument is that maths is inherently more regulatable than speech. If the numbers say that item X must be ranked over item Y, a regulator may decide that a social problem can be solved by "hard-coding" page Y to have a higher ranking than X, regardless of its relevance. This isn't censorship – it's more like progressive taxation.
Google admits that Plato's cave doesn't exist
Tim Wu, the Colombia University law professor and anti-trust/competition expert who coined the term “Net Neutrality,” has published an open letter to Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the web and director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
Rogue archivist Rick Prelinger writes, “Oakland students planned to paint a mural on a dark freeway underpass in their city. The project is stalled because Caltrans asserts copyright to murals on its property. The details are a bit sketchy, but there’s a petition here.
Steven Boyett writes, “Humble Bundle has released a unicorn-themed Bundle, with proceeds to benefit the World Wide Fund for Nature and Fauna & Flora International. For as little as $1.00, you can get Ariel, by Steven R. Boyett (full disclosure: that’s me); Unicorn Mountain, by Michael Bishop; Homeward Bound, by Bruce Coville; and Unicorn Triangle, […]
Bamboo has lots of uses beyond just being panda food. Things like bikes, roads, scaffolding, and musical instruments are made from the fast-growing grass. But unless you are participating in a tropical-themed LARP, you probably wouldn’t want a shirt made from bamboo stalks. So why do bamboo bed sheets make any sense? Because yarn extracted from […]
If you want to work in tech, but don’t have any desire to code web apps to help businesses sell things to other business, you might want to consider a career in cybersecurity. Judging from the apparent complete infiltration of Russian hackers in American cyberspace, it seems fair to speculate that there’s a major shortage of […]
All moms are different. But all moms like getting flowers on Mother’s Day, and that’s a fact (not, however a fact we can document in any fashion.) Instead of getting chewed out for forgetting to call her on the second Sunday of May, you can take care of it ahead of time with Teleflora’s flower […]