Private and Social Property: Google and Search Wikia Labs

“We’ve had a tremendous response from very interesting commercial players in the search space,” said Jimmy Wales, co-founder and chairman, Wikia, Inc. “The desire to collaborate and support a transparent and open platform for search is clearly deeply exciting to both open source and businesses. Look for other exciting announcements in the coming months as we collectively work to free the judgment of information from invisible rules inside an algorithmic black box.”

from a July 27 Press Release.

What I find fascinating about Search Wikia is the implicit Google backlash, which I suppose had to happen. “Do no evil” has lost it’s charm already (see #7 here). I am particularly interested in how Wales pitches Open Source search (human indexing) as an alternative to our contemporary machine logic. Here’s a nice summary of Wale’s position.

It’s a strong contrast to the rhetoric of Wikipedia, which is both open source and free; Wikia, of course, is a for profit company funded by advertising. Ironically, the Search Wikia Labs site has Google advertising. What’s wrong with Google, uh, with search? Wales says it’s broken for the same reason that proprietary software is broken: “lack of freedom, lack of community, lack of accountability, lack of transparency.”

It’s a very appealing argument. I’ve heard Adam Curry talk the same talk, and it seems to be the way that Web 2.0 will be sold. This is a textbook example of the contradictions in a capitalist economy between property and human community, or, perhaps more generously, Wales (and Curry) are helping to push property towards its next iteration.

In earlier forms capital– capitalists– owned the commodity, say, music, and sold it to us. All of that has unraveled thanks to mass-sharing technologies, beginning with Napster and perhaps culminating in bit-torrent software. The new paradigm seems to suggest that the property owner owns only the infrastructure that allows “us” to do what we want to do.

I am not sure that this is a good or a bad thing. It may well be that these emerging forms of property are a real advance from the old forms. In Europe and Canada, for example, you can’t get rich off illness and suffering in quite the same way that you can in the United States. Health care has moved from being a commodity to a right; you don’t buy it, it is simple a part of your heritage as a human being. That’s good.

I love podcasting and Wikipedia is one of those great American inventions that only come around once in a century. But I am not sure all of this talk about community and access is going to help us address any of the problems associated with the current iteration of property. Poverty and income inequity, to cite only the most obvious examples, don’t have a technological fix.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Post Navigation