Google, Google on the Wall. . .

Maytag.jpgTroubled and don’t know what to do with your life? Ask a search engine!:

Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, said gathering more personal data was a key way for Google to expand. . . . “The algorithms will get better and we will get better at personalisation. The goal is to enable Google users to be able to ask the question such as ‘What shall I do tomorrow?’ and ‘What job shall I take?’ ”

Guidance counselors may well go the way of the Maytag Repairman. It reminds me of a recent WSJ article on family “naming strategies” to assure Google-able children:

Attempting to counteract her own anonymity on the Web, Ms. Wilson now goes by “Abigail L. Garvey Wilson” when she publishes scientific papers. And recently she has been running names through search engines in anticipation of the arrival of her second child, a daughter due at the end of this month.

If search engines become the key filter through which we see the world, why not? But it is a little worrisome that they are taking on such importance as the search marketplace gets increasingly concentrated. Consider this piece from the WSJ on Microsoft’s acquisition of aQuantive:

The deal . . . follows recent acquisitions of Web-ad companies by Google Inc., Yahoo Inc. and traditional advertising agencies. The emerging consensus: The online-ad market is maturing around an oligopoly of huge companies that sell and place the ads users see online. Placing those ads is increasingly seen as the business model that will fund almost everything on the Internet — from search portals, news sites and video downloads to Web-based software services such as word processing. (emphasis added)

As far back as 2000, researchers predicted that “some search engines may dominate the search engine market.” Admittedly, I have to plead guilty here to contributing to a self-fulfilling prophecy–the more that idea is pushed, the less likely it is that investors will fund potential rivals. But I think it important we realize its implications as search engines take on an ever more important cultural role. Just as Habermas has argued for state support for a quality press to provide alternatives to market outlets, I hope some government or foundation funds a viable open-source and open-access alternative to commercial search portals funded by ads.

Lastly, here’s a funny anecdote about a rocker’s struggle for name recognition:

A Los Angeles singer-songwriter … in 2003 abandoned his given name and began going by his initials, “AM.” At the time, he was launching a solo career and hoped the approach might help him stand out.

But even as AM began to experience some success, he soon realized that fans had trouble finding him on the Web. Google returned an estimated 2.3 billion results for “AM” — ranging from American Greetings Corp. (ticker symbol: AM) to AM radio stations and a site called — but no links to the long-haired L.A. singer within at least the first 20 pages.

AM titled a first self-released album “AM” — which didn’t help. “How much bad luck can a guy have when he’s just blindly coming up with his image and he has no idea what the impact will be down the line?” asks AM, who declines to provide his age or real name.

Should have tried “AM Dawn“.

Photo Credit: Flickr/Gegjohnson.

Frank Pasquale

Frank is Professor of Law at the University of Maryland. His research agenda focuses on challenges posed to information law by rapidly changing technology, particularly in the health care, internet, and finance industries.

Frank accepts comments via email, at All comments emailed to may be posted here (in whole or in part), with or without attribution, either as "Dissents of the Day" or as parts of follow-up post(s). Please indicate in your comment whether or not you would like attribution, or would prefer your comment (if it is selected for posting) to be anonymous.

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2 Responses

  1. Belle Lettre says:

    And here I am, paranoid enough to be pseudonymous!

    It kind of disturbs me, this naming of children to affect googability/marketability. Goes far beyond the Freakonomics tactic of naming your child to succeed.

    Indeed, they might go in contrary ways. If naming your child something non-ethnic or to signal a certa class strata means that your child will be another Michael, Kaitlyn, or Heather; then maybe there is something to more unique first name–as long as it’s not ethnic.

    Still kinds of disturbs me how much life is now measured by algorithms, as if that was the useful metric to measure personal success. Seems kind of presumptuous to think you’ll be the only John Q. Wilson of distinction.

    Wasn’t it Shakespeare who said something about a rose, blah blah, other name, blah blah, sweet?

  2. arthur says:

    AM’s problem reminds of a litigation problem, where we issued third-party subpoenas to various corporations concerning a now-defunct company caleld IT Group. All of the subpoenaed parties complained that they couldn’t search for computerized records in any reasonable way. Even the Company’s own auditor couldn’t find its records.