Going To War Against The Evil Empire

Ian R ThorpeStarred Page By Ian R Thorpe, 14th Oct 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Web>Search Engines

Prompted by a post from Peter Giblett (responding to an earlier one by Kaylar) and then to a post from Kaylar on a different but related topic, I decided as someone who spent 30 years working with computers and was involved in the development of internet technologies, to throw my hat in the ring on the subject of where the web (and Wikinut in particular) might be headed. (Image is my simple mash up)

Who Will End Up Controlling Web Content

It may seem strange for somebody who spent a year not participating, apart from sporadic ripples of activity) at Wikinut to say I like the site and think it is one of the few sites on which writers can post their work and get satisfying numbers of readers that will survive the 'purges' being advocated by Big Government, Big Media and Big Technology at the moment. If you think that sounds a bit like an Orwellian Big Brother regime, you are on the right track. Matt Drudge, and love him or hate him, nobody can seriously suggest he has been an influential figure since the early days of the world wide web, recently claimed he had been told by a US Supreme Court judge that new copyright laws currently being pushed through the United States legislative system will finish news aggregator sites like the one Drudge has run for years.

Personally I think Matt was being a bit of a drama queen, he says the new laws will prevent news aggregator sites such as his using headlines from or even linking to corporate media news sites. So what? It seems Drudge, along with many others in US media is labouring under the misapprehension that Barack Obama was speaking the truth when, addressing the United Nations (September, 2015) he said "I believe what is true for America is true for virtually all democracies." Vladimir Putin slapped him down at the UN of course, but there was also a muttering of dissent around the world. The words may not be spoken aloud in the corridors of power, but there is a strong feeling among the general populace that what is good for America is seldom anything but bad for other nations involved.

One area the USA is encountering increased resistance to its attempts to dominate in internet freedom. A Wikinut post from Kaylar, Another Side To Google, illustrated how far Google will go in their quest to control the totality of online information. The wannabe Search monopoly has not had things its own way of course, both Russia and China have placed restrictions on its activities within their national telecommunications networks, and a law suit being contested with the European Union could result in heavy fines and penalties being imposed for Google's manipulating of search results for its own commercial benefit. And then there are the numerous legal issues regarding the cavalier attitude to users privacy to be faced.

Pushing back the evil empire

Another area in which, I confidently predict, Google will encounter problems is their latest world domination plan, to use Artificial Intelligence to measure the 'quality' of content and grade it according to how factual it is. I'm sure there are some science tits (yes I know that looks like an error, it isn't) who think the internet should only be about 'science' i.e. content universally acknowledged as correct, but what an anodyne world we will inhabit if there is no room for opinion, debate, dissent, satire, surrealism, speculation, fantasy, exploration of spirituality or the supernatural and good old fashioned silliness. So in their ambition to regulate what can be seen online, Google make themselves look even more Orwellian, like The Ministry Of Truth in the dystopian novel 1984 in fact.

Clearly then, it is way past time Google's dominance was challenged. But how? Bing is not much better in its behaviour towards search integrity and users privacy. Users of Firefox can use a search facility on the browser home page and be sure their searches are not tracked, but I guess Firefox will not have its own web index and so will used Google or Microsoft data farms. Duckduckgo (created by Russian search company Yandex I understand) is getting better all the time but while its results are less skewed towards profit, its indexing is not so deep. Startpage.com also uses the Google index although users say its algorithm is better at prioritizing what is relevant over what is profitable.

The Route To Victory

Really the answer to breaking Google's dominance lies in the hands of "We The Punters", and especially those of us who create content for the internet which can be accessed through sites like Wikinut and Authorsden or from our own web space. It takes a lot of work and earns little reward beyond appreciative comments and the pleasure of watching our traffic figures go up. We can work to build personal followings here and elsewhere, network our presence on various sites, not take too much notice of search companies warnings about duplicate content not being tolerated and thus spread our ideas and thoughts as broadly as possible. Search engines do not look for the odd paragraph duplicated, or even a web page which has for its main body article a text that appears elsewhere, they look for whole domains duplicated and because they use 'Artificial Intelligence' (AI) will give a clean bill of health to pages that are 'substantively different'.

What is 'substantively different', you might well ask. I have always said (as an former IT consultant) that the only way computers will ever be intelligent is if we radically redefine the meaning of intelligence. I will write about AI in detail another time, for now it is sufficient to say computers can match strings on binary digits and through a huge number of logical steps can convert binary strings into letters, numbers and symbols humans understand. but the computer has no way of inferring meaning from those strings. So if I post a body of text in my Greenteeth or Daily Stirrer pages, at Authorsden and here in Wikinut, it will be picked up by a duplicate content checker but not penalised by a search engine because the navigation and extra information surrounding the body text is enough to make the page substantively different. We can network our pages and boost traffic at all of them. (when I get back from a short break in Majorca I will reveal a few traffic catching tricks.)

So, dare I say <b>The Revolution Starts Here</b>. are we going to let the profiteers and purveyors of dross and gossip hijack the web, the peoples' medium, as they hijacked television, radio and print media. Are we going to surrender our right of free speech because we are to lazy to exercise it. Or are we going to become "dissentious rogues" to borrow a phrase from Shakespeare's Coriolanus, to reject the mainstream, question, challenge, create, discuss and by doping so to arrive at a truly diverse range of valid points of view and present users with interesting, entertaining and stimulating ideas. That is the way we will take back the Internet and regain control of our lives from the Corporate Imperialists.


Content, Google, Internet, Search, Technology

Meet the author

author avatar Ian R Thorpe
Born Manchester UK, 1948. varied early career from clerk via construction site worker and street trader to I T consultant. Performance poet, broadcaster, fiction writer and essayist on many topics.

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author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
15th Oct 2015 (#)

It must be said over and over that not everyone uses Google, I personally like to use 2 or 3 different search engines as I find that when I do I can truly find more interesting articles!

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author avatar Ian R Thorpe
15th Oct 2015 (#)

That's a good pooint Mark, I have never used Google as my search engine of choice (I use them for 'research purposes at times - gotta see what the enemy is up to) But there is no doubt they have held an unhealthily dominance of the web for many years. In this article I chose to address that, later I'll move to how we fight back and how we protect this site and others from eventually being crushed by Google's greed for control.

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author avatar Ian R Thorpe
15th Oct 2015 (#)

There was another comment here until I opened the reply window to respond, then when I started to type the text box and comment both disappeared. Sorry Siva, you comment was appreciated, and the point about Google spreading its tentacles beyod the web (and into areas I personally find disturbing) will be addressed in another post. Let's hope the comment returns as mysteriously as it disappeared, then everyone can read it.

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
15th Oct 2015 (#)

I can understand Ian, no issues.

My take was that our technology march should not be led by profit motive, greed of few, but embrace inclusiveness to benefit all. Now it looks more like few trying to run away with the spoils.

When I point towards an idealistic path, some tend to dismiss it as - it is never going to happen - but we should keep trying so that democracy and freedom have meaning for the vast majority.

China and Russia have their own agenda to grapple with - to deny voice to their people with a top down approach to entrench the hold of few - siva

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author avatar Ian R Thorpe
16th Oct 2015 (#)

Thanks for redoing that and you make very good points. We must of course keep fighting to protect our individual freedoms and national/regional cultures and I do feel that here in Europe there is a change of mood among the mass of people, loss of trust in government has been augmented by a revival of the positive kind of nationalism (well, mostly the positive kind).

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author avatar kaylar
17th Oct 2015 (#)

I was writing about alternative search engines, and posted it here but it disappeared.

I just wrote something, which is waiting for review which bounces off something Mark mentioned, which I know for a fact, the introduction of Knol directly after the Panda, and the failure of Knol.

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author avatar Ian R Thorpe
25th Oct 2015 (#)

Sorry for delay replying, I've been on holiday in Majorca during which time, amazingly, I could find no time for the internet (LOL). I will do some catching up on your posts on search technology and swap some ideas with you.

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author avatar Retired
18th Oct 2015 (#)

It seems to me that the problem boils down to the nature of the Internet - what purposes does it serve, and what rights do people have over what appears on it?

I went to school a few hundred yards from a building in which - unknown to me at the time - a guy was working who would later create something that he would call the World Wide Web. This was Tim Berners-Lee, who always had the idea of the Web as being a tool that would set people free to create and access content outside the control of governments. It was therefore designed to incorporate a certain degree of anarchy and chaos!

Unfortunately, that is something that governments and big business cannot abide - governments want to know what people are up to, and businesses want to make money from whatever that is.

The freedom of the Web therefore needs to be defended.

However, there is another aspect to this, and my professional background as a librarian might seem to run counter to what I have just said. My "trade" is finding reliable information for people. Traditionally, this was from printed sources, and there are well-known techniques for determining what counts as a reliable source. With the Web, this task is much more difficult, simply because anyone can write anything they like and it is far from easy to tell good from bad.

The attack on "content farms", and Google's refusal to index them, can be seen as an attempt to introduce a form of quality control - the assumption being that you can't trust everything you might find on such a site - and it's not an unreasonable assumption.

So there's the dilemma - is the Web there as a "free for all" forum for everyone to use as they wish, or is it a vast library that needs to be controlled so that people can know where the best information is to be found? I can see arguments on both sides.

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author avatar Ian R Thorpe
25th Oct 2015 (#)

Interesting comment John, as I said higher up the thread, I'm just back from a short holiday, so I will reply properly (probably in the form of a follow up article) when my brain gets back into gear.
One point though, the notion that Tim Berners Lee created the WWW is not even a myth, it's a fairy story (these is an obscure, essential truth in myths). Hundreds, probably thousands of people (myself among them) were involved in creating the internet. The World Wide Web is a public relations exercise, far from being an open portal to all the information in the world, the WWW serves to hide all but around 5% of online resources from the general public (and quite rightly so, privacy must be protected.)

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author avatar Retired
26th Oct 2015 (#)

Ian, That is a surely a sweeping statement about Tim Berners-Lee? You say that the notion that he invented it is "not even a myth" and then say that thousands of people developed the Internet!

Nobody is claiming that Tim Berners-Lee invented the Internet, merely that he thought of putting various pieces together that led to what is now the World Wide Web.

Major developments are rarely down to one person, but lots of people beavering away on different aspects and often working in parallel. There is a world of difference between having an original idea - which Berners-Lee had - and creating a finished product. I should have used the word "invent" rather than "create" in my previous comment.

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author avatar Ian R Thorpe
27th Oct 2015 (#)

"merely that he thought of putting various pieces together that led to what is now the World Wide Web"

Take it from a 30 year computer pro, the pieces were already together when TBL said, "We sciencetits need to be able to access all the information in the internet,"
His two main beefs were that academics found it far to onerous a task to manage their accounts and passwords and wanted all systems to be open (imagine your payroll details, health records or bank accounts being open to the world - the man was so ignorant of what was being done on computers he thought they were only of use to head-in-the-clouds scientists like himself - and he created HTML, an absolute abortion of a text markip scripting protocol because again he said scientists found it to onerous a task to master the subtle differences between MS Word, Word Prefect, Word Pro, MS Excel, Lotus 123 and so on.
Ironically, low grade clerks, administrators, storekeepers, accountants, personnel officers, sales people and I dare say, librarians and archivists had no problems using the available systems.
An English academic working in the USA, Andrew Keen (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Keen), in his book The Cult Of The Amateur thoroughly demolished the ideology of an open network advanced by the ultimate amateur Tim Berners Lee.
The real driver of the internet as we know it is the http protocol (as I said previously, World Wide Web is just public relations, it sounds much more friendly than HyperText Transfer Protocol) was around as an idea long before Tim Berners Lee came along and stuck his incompetent nose in. Real computer professionals were not quite so lax in their approach to security however. Perhaps what Tim Berners Lee should be remembered for is his statement that the WWW did not need security because only trusted scientists and academics would want to use it.
The version of http finally adopted for the security free, not fit for purpose World Wide Web was a mash up of Digital Equipment's DECnet, Xerox Xnet and Intel internetworking technologies.
Naturally governments were eager to standardize communications technologies across different manufacturers equipment, it made the kind of electronic surveillance first proposed by Vannavar Bush, scientific adviser to the US Government in the 1930s, a realistic possibility.

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author avatar Fern Mc Costigan
20th Oct 2015 (#)

Interesting post!

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