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The Google Paradox

Part I:

Since about the time Google Instant came out, I’ve really only been reading the first two pages of results on Google’s Search Engine. Yesterday, I decided to try querying the engine and visiting the 11th page, the 56th page, you get the drift. What did I found? Extremely relevant results! more relevant to me than the results on the first few pages! How is that possible?

I think Google is guilty of overkill with regard to adjustments to their algorithms. I think that they’ve tried so hard to optimize their search engine, that at this point all is awry. I am getting results on Google that take into consideration some of my “social signals”, plus I’m getting personalized results based on my search history. Why is it that this, for me at least, just doesn’t work out?

I like finding new things on the web, articles with a particular point of view that I’ve never seen before. I’m looking for new material, new points of view as I said, and so my search history is NOT a very good indicator of what is relevant for me. As for social signals, no one I follow or who is my friend on Facebook has my very particular tastes in things.

I think Google is trying too hard. I think that they have become prey to the SEO folk, that the motive force of changes they make to their algorithms is in essence, the people that are trying to optimize their sites FOR Google’s Search Engine. Google is merely reacting to the pressure exerted by the SEO folk and that’s a very bad thing, because it means they aren’t truly INNOVATING anymore. They are merely reacting.

So now I’ve noticed that I get the best results around page 56 in the search results. I can’t quite explain it, but it’s the case at present. I call this phenomenon the Google Algorithm Game or the Google Paradox, where Google is trying to outdo search engine optimizers, and search engine optimizers are trying to outdo Google. In effect, it’s a kind of game, and maybe someone should apply some game theory to the problem, for they would come up - I’m quite sure - with amazing analyses.

Part II:

I was thinking today about novelty in artistic production, about real-time media, about mainstream adoption, viral videos, and aesthetic taste. As Google rolls out some significant algorithm changes, it seems to me that as a society we’re called to ask ourselves what high-quality content is.

On the web, we’re swarmed in content. In fact, everything we interact with online is some form of content or another. Sometimes it’s pure code we’re interacting with, which in essence is literature. Yes, code is a form of literature, just as the novel or the short story are literary forms, so is code.

I was thinking earlier about novelty in art and how in the old days it would take time before something new became popular. We all know the Everett Rogers Diffusion of innovations theory, which plots Early adopters, Early majority, Late majority, and Laggards on a graph. I thought of mainstream adoption, and how it takes time for something to be adopted, but then I thought of viral videos and how their “adoption” is instantaneous, more akin to the outbreak of an epidemic.

Culture stands out to me as something that takes time, and though we have viral phenomena online which break out in record speed, I don’t think that the majority of “viral videos”, for instance, are necessarily what we would call “high-quality content”.

Culture is an immersive experience and resists rapid “adoption”. My current definition of art is something that stays relevant for all times. Art = relevance. As an artist, I peddle in relevance, I sell relevance, I paint relevance across my lips and face. But I’m constantly looking for that type of relevance that is timeless, which is what art is, i.e. timeless.

Real-time media make it possible for socio-cultural viruses to break out, what we now call memes. But most memes don’t really take up all that much of our attention. Think of a viral video, it maybe takes 30 seconds out of your day. That’s not a lot. Compare that to a great work of art, like da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, or Michelangelo’s David, and you can spend an entire lifetime with those cultural artefacts.

We have relationships, intimate relationships with the art that we love, and we never get tired of them. Great art only acquires meaning over time, and a great work of art is a vast renewable resource. You can keep coming back to the source over decades and decades, and still the source is fresh and new, with all the qualities of the truly timeless in human life.

When I talk of “great” works of art, I mean things like Gothic Cathedrals. They are beautiful objects, oftentimes involving something of the sublime in human experience. Producing art, though, is very much about communication, so it’s no wonder that artists are flocking to the World Wide Web to promote and share the work that they do.

Art is about connecting with people. The web is about language media and their influence in our daily lives and on society as a whole. While viral videos are novelties that spread like wildfire in a millisecond, they usually lack substance. They are not life-altering experiences. They are not something we become attached to. If we have relationships with viral content, they are what we would call flings, whereas cultural artefacts we call art, are often with us our entire lives.

The same goes with great memories. Great art, like great memories, are like shrines erected in the name of Truth and Beauty. It’s that timeless quality that humans seek, that source that only grows in depth and meaning. So my contention holds: It takes time for the truly novel in art to sink in and become part of our everyday lives. Art that is truly new usually resists wide adoption, or wide spectatorship. Often what is truly innovative in art is misunderstood and sometimes even the most beautiful pieces of art are seen as ugly or grotesque.

Think of Pablo Picasso's Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. It took a long time for people to see the true value of that piece. People knew they were face-to-face with something great, something marvelous, but what it was they weren’t sure yet. It took time, and it took a lifetime of artistic production by its author and a whole community of artists to truly bring meaning and context to the experience of the painting. Now it is seen as the work that singlehandedly inaugurated the Modern Period in Art.

I just want to help people realize what they are passionate about, what matters to them. As Google changes its algorithms, the discourse now is about low-quality vs. high-quality content. We are hearing more and more about “content curation”, “social curation”, “social discovery”, “serendipity”.. and we are building “engines” to provide these things to us. What is occurring is that as a society we are being asked what constitutes high-quality content, what constitutes content with substance, what constitutes things of great taste.

Computers will never have aesthetic taste in the way a tastemaker can have amongst the human population. But computers, algorithms, and code, are, strangely enough, helping us learn about what it means to be truly human. That’s what the web has always been about, that’s what code itself is about: It’s a communicating medium, a language media, like print media, like text, like the clay tablets of ancient civilizations, like the pyramids and other monumental works of art.

Today our cultural artefacts, our artistic creations are iPhones, Twitter, Facebook, and Google’s Search Engine. Steve Jobs is a great artist, as is Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber. This is our culture in the First World. It is important that we realize that we are in a “Global Village” now especially as the Middle East and North Africa burn. These young people are burning with a desire.. the same desires that we burned with in our youth.. to explore, to discover, see, to dream, to know, to share, and to erect shrines and monuments in our memory.

This is the New Babel. Let us remember that and not make the mistakes of yesterday. Like great artists, let’s strive to get it right. Let’s build a world we’re truly proud of. Let’s leave our children beautiful cultures, great languages, great works of art. Let’s use these language media to truly honor the human spirit in its most timeless forms. In the ancient world, the Gods spoke, their words came down in lightning bolts, windstorms, and locusts, plagues. Today it’s not the Gods who speak, it’s Google making changes to its algorithms. This can be a strong indicator of current trends and trends to come, if we learn to read between the results pages. Ask yourself what results you want to see on the frontpage of the stream of content of your real waking life. Ask yourself about greatness and about that which is timeless in human temporal existence. Query the ancient clay tablets and the pyramids. Query the ancients and their calendrical formulae. Ask yourself about high-quality content, about art with substance, about life with meaning, about men and women of character with Hearts of Resolve.


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