Troubled 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?’ ”
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.