Didja notice the WSJ article today about ask.com's new marketing campaign in the UK, and the resulting fallout? The campaign is less about them and more an attempt to play up fears of Big Brother Google controlling information channels on the internet.
Time out - right now a tall Argentinian is standing IN my cubicle, conversing loudly with his dad and brother over the cube walls. I find this rather aggressively rude, breathtakingly audacious. Who does that - like, ever? Ever, in the history of the universe, who walks into another person's workspace in such a way? In Argentina they do, I guess. He walks out, then back in, out and in again, now he's standing there and listening. My personal space is being violated. I am not a confrontational person, so haven't said anything yet. And don't know what I would - he's the son of the owner and founder. Perhaps a "no trespassing" sign. Better use the caps lock - unleash the fury!
Okay, about ask.com. I find their attempts at a sort of weird mainstream-guerilla-counterculture hybrid that doesn't build or promote or even really mention their OWN brand to be exceedingly curious, but not as curious as this:
"The online criticism (of the campaign) hasn't been the company's only problem. Soon after the ads appeared, bloggers noticed that searching for the word "Google" on ask.com pulled up this comment: "Don't be a droid - use different sources of information" next to a drawing of a man on puppet strings and a link to ask.com's anti-google web site. Mr Lanzone says the link was put up by overzealous staff, and was quickly removed to avoid any doubt about the impartiality of the site's searches."
Nothing like exploiting the channels of information you control to decry just that sort of exploitation.
More to the point, I love how they gloss over it: "oh, no big deal; some of our staffers got a little carried away and manipulated our search engine to suit their proclivities." Like it's no big deal, like it happens all the time. If quality of information is a positive good for ask.com and its users and exploitation a hiss and byword, wouldn't this bring down a sort of holocaust on the marketing hacks that tampered with search results? Instead it's a little faux-pas that's fixed and forgotten.
The subversive part of me wonders what sorts of search results I'd like to manipulate. Imagine! What would you like a searcher to see when they query Sanjaya, erectile dysfunction, or the Hawley-Smoot Tarrif?
But there are economic concerns at stake. No secret that a search engine will show results its creator designates. And this leads to a question worth pondering: what are the economic, societal, and investment consequences of the information atmosphere that is being shaped in the electronic age? Where the power to promote and restrict certain information rests in the hands of a relative few?
The utopian vision of the internet and unfettered communication offered the idea that people would be able to communicate with pretty much whomever they pleased. Are the many and various channels many and various enough to overwhelm any effort to restrict? Do people care enough to find what they WANT to find? Or are they happy with whatever pops up on their yahoo! home page? And what are the consequences of THAT? Have you noticed the rolling-up and consolidation of promotional power in the various media? Disney promotes its films on ABC. Yahoo pumps up its media partners with "news" stories on its main page. The same names are seen wherever you look, it seems. Britney, Paris, and Xtina, yay!