Playing Ronald McDonald to Google’s Joe Camel: Does Google Hardwire Wikipedia in Search Results?
An interesting thing has happened as a result of Wikipedia doing dark over murders on the streets of Tehran. Sorry, it wasn’t that. Google advertising the sale of counterfeit 2012 Olympics tickets and keeping the profits? No, no it wasn’t that. Murders on the streets of Syria. No, no, it wasn’t that either. What was it again? Google selling prescription drugs to kids? No, no. Ah yes. “Censorship” by the US government prosecuting foreign criminals stealing American jobs–and of course “Hollywood” making too much money, because that’s certainly what the 1% of the 1% in Silicon Valley complain of daily.
So when Wikipedia went dark Creative Commons board member Jimmy Wales (that would be the Creative Commons that gets millions from Google–$1.5 million in 2008 alone) may have jumped the shark. This article from Scottish journalist Iain MacWhirter puts a finger right on it:
“Just try a few random searches. Yesterday I Googled “Scottish independence referendum” and top of the results list was the Wikipedia entry. [The Scottish independence referendum is a big damn deal in the UK and to those in the Scots diaspora (which is not a whiskey).] Then I searched “global warming”, which also served up Wikipedia’s page as number one. Even searching something relatively obscure, like “pensions crisis”, Wikipedia emerged top of the results table. Almost every non-news search I made came up Wiki – except interestingly, Celtic Football Club, where the club’s own site is top. But even here Wikipedia was third.
This website is well on the way to becoming the number one source of information for the entire world.”
Sound familiar? Organizing the world’s information whether the world likes it or not. And how can you organize something you don’t functionally control. So if there wasn’t a Wikipedia, Google would probably have invented it. Assuming they didn’t. Because Wikipedia gives Google “free” content, and Google gives Wikipedia placement that is worth a fortune.
As we know from the Google antitrust investigation, Google hard wires search results–Marissa Meyer said they do and feel entitled about it (see video above). We also know from long observation that videos from search monopolist Google’s subsidiary video monopolist YouTube are the only videos that come up in the first page of search results for music artists seemingly all the time. Google’s many other products also get favored treatment in search results.
But another thing that the former Hunch boss Wales may have accomplished is to show people how much original content is out there that is maybe just a link or two down the search page but which many people–especially journalists–pass right over as Ian MacWhirter tells us:
“I’m beginning to wonder if [Wikipedia] isn’t gaining a virtual monopoly on online wisdom. Which is more than a little worrying. There was a time a few years ago when Wikipedia was the butt of stand-ups and satirists because of the unreliability of some of its biographical entries, which were often full of lurid inaccuracies. These are all in the ‘Wikipedia inaccuracies’ page on, er, Wikipedia. But no-one is laughing now. Every school and university student in the industrialised world goes first to Wikipedia when they’re looking for information for an essay. Not for nothing did the Wikipedia boss, Jimmy Wales, say on the eve of yesterday’s blackout: ‘Get your homework done early kids.’
Any journalist who says he or she doesn’t use Wikipedia at some time or other is lying. You can’t help using it because it is always there, sitting in poll [sic] position, on every internet search.”
Senator Richard Blumenthal said it best, speaking to Google Grand Poobah Eric Schmidt:
“’You run the race track. You own the race track. For a long time you had no horses. Now you have horses and have control over where those horses are placed and your horses seem to be winning,’ Blumenthal told Schmidt [at the recent Senate antitrust hearings].
‘What a lot of these questions raise is a potential conflict of interest to use a sort of pejorative, but not necessarily to be critical. You may have great products and you place them first and you may consider that a service to consumers, but inevitably that will stimulate the kind of criticism that has brought you here today.'”
While there is no public statement that Google “owns” a piece of Wikipedia (which would be very typical in The Valley although is more indirect in the case of nonprofits), there is no way for your average citizen to ever know if there is a quid for the pro quo of “pole position” in the Google monopoly search engine (or if there’s a UBIT issue). Nothing you couldn’t discover with a subpoena, but who is going to send that demand?
There should be little doubt that the Wikipedia shutdown was designed to send a political message that most benefited Google because the rogue sites legislation is about three things: money, money and money.
If Wikipedia results are hard wired into the top of Google’s search right along side Google’s other products, then that will be of interest to observers like Senator Mike Lee who noted that “it was uncanny how in a search for a certain product it shows the company Google owns that sells the product always comes up third”.
“‘You’ve cooked it so you’re always third,’ Lee said [to Schmidt].” [Id.]
My advice? Do your homework early, because it may be the fire next time, and as we all know, where there is fire there is smoke. And don’t forget–Google hired evidence expert Fred Von Lohman, so good luck with that subpoena.
As James Baldwin famously said in his 1979 essay about education, “A child cannot be taught by anyone who despises him and a child cannot afford to be fooled.” Compare to “Jimbo” Wales, “Get your homework done early, kids.” I leave it to you to decide which statement is contemptuous.
[Editor Charlie says: It must be said that MacWhirter’s piece while enlightening in many ways, completely misdescribes the scope of the rogue sites legislation and also attributes statements to President Obama that he did not make–although the President may have been quoted in Wikipedia!]