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Your Homework over the Holidays

December 19, 2007
Now, I know that a 60-page journal article isn't your idea of holiday reading. But consider casting aside that copy of The Lovely Bones for a spell, because these scholars raise some important issues. To wit:
The rise of the internet during the last fifteen years led some to hope that technology would resolve this dilemma. Enthusiasts predicted the network would ameliorate the traditional mass-media bottleneck and render moot the policy and legal debates that surrounded it. We know better now. As the internet matured, it became evident that accompanying the new possibilities were many of the old difficulties, though often in new guises. In this article we extend Barron's inquiry to the most influential gatekeepers of information and ideas in the digital age: internet search engines. Though rarely thought of as a "mass medium," search engines occupy a critical junction in our networked society. Their influence on our culture, economy, and politics may eventually dwarf that of the broadcast networks, radio stations, and newspapers. Located at bottlenecks of the information infrastructure, search engines exercise extraordinary control over data flow in a largely decentralized network. Power, as always, is accompanied by opportunities for abuse, and by concerns over its limitation to legitimate and appropriate uses. Here we are concerned with one aspect of this growing power: search engines' power to manipulate their results, thereby affecting the ability of internet speakers to reach potential audiences.
Scant analysis has been directed towards search giants like Google and Yahoo!, beyond their burgeoning market share. So think of this paper as a roasted chestnut, and not a lump of coal, courtesy of your friends at Biddle. Via Siva's Google blog.