by Jack Kessler, email@example.com
September 15, 2009 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on September 15, 2009.
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|L'entonnoir : Google sous la loupe des sciences de l'information & de la
[The Funnel: Google under the Information Science microscope]
by Brigitte Simonnot and Gabriel Gallezot eds., preface by Hervé Le Crosnier, postface by Cory Doctorow (Caen : C&F Éditions, May 2009) 246 pages, ISBN 2-914825-05-X, http://cfeditions.com, in French.
[in-court in Manhattan on October 7, see http://www.fyifrance.com/f102009b.htm]
-- here are some new views, from France, on the Google phenomenon generally, and on how it works and/or is said to, and on whether it works or not -- written by French information scientists, French generalist thinkers, and even a talented scifi writer... remember that Wm. Gibson invented the Internet...
This is a book well worth reading -- for librarians, digital and other, and for information scientists, and for anyone who thought the French were "behind" in any of this, and for anyone who believes Google or the Internet or anything else in our new digital world will scale up easily & obviously to international and trans-national applications -- also for anyone interested in the French and the way they approach a problem, also for anyone who reads -- and there is good constructive criticism to be found, here, from some old friends who know the USofA very well.
After its Preface and an Introduction, the book is presented in three parts --
And finally, the book's Postface presents some good fun: a scifi tour de force, on sort-of the general subject, by Cory Doctorow -- of whom, per the blurb,
"... his books and notices appear regularly in SciFi conferences... founder and animateur of Boing-Boing, one of the most-read blogs on the planet... columns in journals and reviews everywhere, from Wired to The Guardian, by way of Locus, Radar, Fortune and The New York Times..."
So much for Outline, now for some interesting Details --
The metaphor used by the writers of this particular book interests him, Le Crosnier says: Google has inspired many metaphors -- here it is organizing information and placing it into hierarchies, for us, but at the end of a funnel -- so, should we enter-in, and at what price, what sort of Faustian Bargain should we accept, for the advantages Google provides?
Also, Le Crosnier worries over the individual tailoring done by datamining: Google obtains the profile of each of us, this way, but also the "profiling" of all of us, and is that a good thing? And is it a price worth paying, for what we get?
And is it even accurate: in the final analysis, Le Crosnier warns, real life lies outside of the GoogleFunnel -- certainly as-viewed from its narrow-most end, as we users are called upon to view it -- even real digital life still is somewhere "out there".
He makes a powerful point. We need to understand both the myths and the limits of Google's effort, Le Crosnier believes, for there always are myths, and limits.
"The frequent use of search engines does not lead students to question the foundations of the information revolution, or to improve their understanding of information and documentation. It gives them an illusion of autonomy."
They write with some scepticism of "indicateurs scientométriques", from which datamining is derived. [They should know that early "content analysis" counted the number of times Goebbels said the word "democracy" in his speeches, trying to draw conclusions from that...] They mention the user who knows only a search engine, becoming lost in its process as though swallowed by the engine: the user who wants to drive the car but doesn't care how it works -- that is the average Internet user, in fact, now and probably forever.
Even though students have had no information-searching training, they believe that they know how to use the search engines: so very few even know that the Invisible Web exists, she says, much less how to reach and use it -- quality of searching is sacrificed for ease-of-use, and for "speed", her studies show. She worries that France now has a new generation which knows only Google.
I was reminded of the many branch offices closed during the 1970s and 1980s by US journals, which found it increasingly inefficient -- they thought -- to maintain such overhead in "the field", when both research and writing increasingly could be done back at the home office with occasional forays "out"... although such forays "out" materialized less and less, they also found...
The US State Department offers a governmental example of the same phenomenon, perhaps, with local embassies doing far less "intel" and "field work" than in the past: now the folks back in DC do all that, with occasional forays "out" -- foreign service folks on-the-spot in embassies spend more time entertaining local generals and hopeful business-people, from within the high-walled & razor-wired & otherwise ferociously-guarded "compounds" which recently have become the US diplomatic and informational presence abroad. So maybe there, too, the function formerly-performed by eyes & ears on-the-ground now increasingly gets confined to Google.
Other highlights -- it is an interesting book, if only for the many ways in which perceptions of seemingly-scientific and value-free / wertfrei Google differ, outre-Atlantique, from whichever side you begin --
But journalists I suppose having been creatures of the "eyewitness report", they may indeed have lost their unique eyes, recently, if all they see now are the same screens we all use -- particularly those "embedded" reporters who nowadays "report" on the writings of one another about America's overseas wars... Perhaps there is nothing left but office hierarchy games, then: per Professor Peter, d'accord, on se bureaucratise.
"... the understanding of research tools justifies, we believe, turning to the history, linguistics, economics, law, even philosophy... of information.
"Knowing a few important events in the history of information tools enables us, for example, to avoid 'presentist' illusions and to see these tools in their proper historical contexts."
-- yes, how often we all have wanted to know the historical background, confronted by some "Wow!" presentation by some techie who we're convinced simply has "reinvented the 'wheel'" -- and how much better to know the flaws from before, so they won't plague us now as we cope with his latest iteration.
"The principal characteristic of the global Net is not that it makes so much information available, but that it brings in millions of users to make information and document searching part of their daily activity..."
There is not so much "relevance" but an "illusion of relevance", these authors say -- also, an "illusion of completeness".
"Google n'est pas googol", this author announces: I wonder if anyone in France has considered in this connection, or even has heard of, "Barney Google, with the great big googly eyes"? For that matter Barney G. may be unknown in Brin & Page's young US generation, too. Yet I can't help wondering whether the famous old ragtime song, and Jerry Colonna character, might not have as much to do with the US popularity of Google's name as math, or the name of the old Russian mathematician, ever did.
"Z6PO", too: I am sure the name of the Lucas robot in question would be rendered "C3PO a.k.a. See-Threepio a.k.a. Threepio", wouldn't it? Inquiring minds would like to know...
-- details, details... so, "google it"... don't "MSN it"...
I cannot be fair to all the book's contributors, by summarizing or even just excerpting each of their various and varied articles here -- least of all to the scifi author of the Postface, whose piece must be read in toto to get both gist and flavor -- but read his piece, read the others, read this book -- reasonable minds can differ, and it's all good input, sometimes best in fact when it's different.
A quick appreciation before-I-go, though, of the book design talents of Les Taffin, Nicolas and Juliette, who once again have greatly enhanced my enjoyment and understanding of a book from France. Without their imaginative and excellently-executed chapter heading pages here, my poor francophone talents might not have known, literally, where to end or to begin.
And three General Notes:
How can we possibly allow a process so arcane, and for whatever good reason so hidden, to decide for us what we all shall read and know?
But this is "constructive criticism", at its very best, from old friends who know us, nous les américains, extremely well.
Since Tocqueville and Lafayette and long before, the French have cared, and have offered to us in the US well-informed and candid comment -- a commodity not always available from other non-anglophone friends overseas -- and good input, invaluable now in a "globalization" era for, once again, scaling-up techniques we've developed here at home, to suit overseas users.
Jack Kessler, firstname.lastname@example.org
FYI France (sm)(tm) e-journal ISSN 1071-5916 * | FYI France (sm)(tm) is a monthly electronic | journal published since 1992 as a small-scale, | personal experiment, in the creation of large- | scale "information overload", by Jack Kessler. / \ Any material written by me which appears in ----- FYI France may be copied and used by anyone for // \\ any good purpose, so long as, a) they give me --------- credit and show my email address, and, b) it // \\ isn't going to make them money: if it is going to make them money, they must get my permission in advance, and share some of the money which they get with me. Use of material written by others requires their permission. FYI France archives may be found at http://email@example.com/ (BIBLIO-FR archive), or http://listserv.uh.edu/archives/pacs-l.html (PACS-L archive), or http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/Collections/FYIFrance/ or http://www.fyifrance.com . Suggestions, reactions, criticisms, praise, and poison-pen letters all gratefully received at firstname.lastname@example.org . Copyright 1992- , by Jack Kessler, all rights reserved except as indicated above.
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