"PageRank is a global ranking of all web pages, regardless of their content, based solely on their location in the web’s graph structure."
Larry Page et al 1999: 15
The success of Google's move to the local is based on the premise that the relevance of information sources also depends on location. PageRank
, however, might be considered as a globalizing algorithm developed for google.com. google.com might be regarded as the global Google engine, because it works according to the principle: every link is a 'vote' and votes from information sources with more links are considered to be more authoritative, following a power-law distribution. Hence PageRank
accounts for what is considered to be most relevant on the global scale of the web.
Regarding google.com as a representation of what is considered to be relevant for a “Global us” is under debate. Lovink argues that the search engine filters out relevant sources from the masses of data and ranks them according to ‘popularity,’ or the number of links received from the web (2008). Moreover, the self-fulfilling prophecy of these logics implies that pages deemed to be more popular are granted more visibility, which in turn enhances their popularity. Particularly, google.com as global machine is said to privilege USA sources (Jeanneney 2007).
On the other hand, when addressing issues of homogeneity and mass media, Googlization scholar Jeff Jarvis claims that Google is a post-media company replacing the mass market by the ‘mass of niches.’ “Google realizes that we are individuals who live in an almost infinite universe of small communities of interest, information, and geography. Google does not treat us as a mass. Google understands that the economy is made up of a mass of niches – that small is the new big” (Jarvis 2009: 6). Recalling Hindman’s notion of Googlearchy, Jarvis argues that Google in fact treats the list of sources returned in response to a user’s query as representing the most dominant sources of that niche. The question thus becomes, to what extent local sources and issues are considered to be a niche based on local cultures. As the algorithm privileges those sources that receive most links, does it then give global sources top positions in the local rankings as well? How far along is Google's customization on location?
With its 175 national domain Google implemented spatial analysis methods, beside hyperlink analysis and textual analysis. Google uses three main technical indicators to determine the locative borders of a national Google space: the hosting location of an information source (IP), country specific domain names (ccTLD such as .nl or .ps) and, if an information source is a .com hosted in the United States while its content is targeted at, say, India, via Google’s Webmasters Centre India can be targeted. The question is, what claims can one make about national cultures with these definitions of the local? In the following, treating the national Google’s result pages as data sets for socio-cultural research, local cultures are compared by displaying the issues prominent in local spaces. At the same time the comparison empirically tests whether we can make claims about society by repurposing the web’s dominant search engine.
- 15 Dec 2009