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Grimmelman non search neutrality

James Grimmelmann, whose writing on the Google Books settlement I’ve found helpful, has written an article about the incoherence of the concept of “search neutrality” — “the idea that search engines should be legally required to exercise some form of even-handed treatment of the websites they rank. ” (He blogs about it here.) He finds eight different possible meanings of the term, and doesn’t think any of them hold up.

Me neither. Relevancy is not an objective criterion. And too much transparency allows spammers to game the system. I would like to be assured that companies aren’t paying search engine companies to have their results ranked higher (unless the results are clearly marked as pay-for-position, which Google does but not clearly enough).

5 Responses to “Grimmelman non search neutrality”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jose Afonso Furtado, Julian Sanchez, Mike Riggs, adamhodgkin, Javier Celaya and others. Javier Celaya said: Excelente articulo sobre neutralidad en la web RT @jafurtado, by David Weinberger (@dweinberger) […]

  2. David, it’s funny how you argue for “network neutrality” (even though ISPs are not monopolies) but then against “search neutrality” (even though Google is, and also has a growing number of businesses it can advantage via biased search results). I’ve noticed that this counterfactual stance is echoed throughout the Berkman Center, which just happens to be heavily funded by Google. Coincidence?

  3. First, I’m leaving the Freudian typo in the title. Oops.

    Brett: Yes, it is coincidence.

  4. Brett, in intellectual fairness to David, a while back he did do a post where he talked about the (paraphrase!) incoherence of the concept of “net neutrality”, here:

    “BTW, I recently spent a day–sponsored by an activist think tank–with a dozen people who understand Net tech deeply, going through exactly which of the 496 permutations would constitute a violation of Net neutrality. Caching packets within a particular application area but not according to source? Caching application-based non-cached application-based packets? Saying “Hi” to all passing packets, but adding, “Howya doin’?” to only the ones you like? Patting all packets on the back but refusing to buy some lunch? The whole thing makes my brain hurt.”

    Walked it back when it got seized-on, though:

    “The fact that it’s challenging to work out the precise application of NN in some instances doesn’t mean that the meaning of the principle itself is unclear. It’s tough to figure out exactly how to apply, say, affirmative action, gay rights, or the end-to-end principle, but it’d be highly misleading to start an article on them by saying the principles are unclear. It’s the nature of principles to require thought, argument and politics in their application.”

    Of course, I’m sure we’re not to apply the above generous reasoning to *search* neutrality. The whole thing makes my brain hurt.

  5. I don’t understand why someone would not be allowed to hold a position for net neutrality and then at the same time be against “search” neutrality… I’m not saying that this is how I view the issue, but Google is not a service that internet users directly pay for. On top of that, most people don’t use Google as an exclusive source to find things on the internet…

    Of course without search neutrality, there is always the possibility of both things applying to search engines. (E.g. a search engine that involved a subscription service in order to view results based on solely on popularity and the relevant word searches that crawlers use).

    This is interesting but complicated.

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