Witness: Google God and Local History

Attending protests and blowing up on Hacker News.

Sunday’s protest brought 2000+ people together in downtown Columbia, MO.

Last week, I shared “Google Is Not God of The Web” on Hacker News - a news aggregator popular with tech types - just before leaving to attend a Black Lives Matter protest at the State Capitol. After some 5-6 hours of marching and chanting, I noticed a Twitter mention from my friend sentreh in the car on the way home indicating that he had come across my post on the site’s front page and did a “double take.” When I investigated, I found over 200 comments (it’s ~300 now, worth 21,000+ words) waiting for me - a good many of them longer than the post itself, on which the resulting buzz netted some 45,000 views.

Out of everything I’ve shared on Bilge recently, it’s hilarious that this particular post - on which I spent a cumulative total of perhaps 25 minutes writing and made less effort than ever to edit - became probably my most widely-shared work of all time. Regardless, I appreciate the attention, of course, and have no desire to bore you with any more meta. I would, however, like to take the opportunity to share some of my favorites of the feedback.

From user pornel:

There are lots of questionable ways in which Google owns the web (AMP, reCaptcha harassing users without Google cookies, Chrome's "Fire And Motion" web standards strategy), but this one isn't one of them.

From addicted:

I think most people haven’t internalized that Google is no longer a search engine but an answering engine.


As a web developer who has recently spent an ungodly amount of time trying to make my pages meet Google's impossible standards for qualifying as "fast" on mobile, I sympathize with the author's point. But I think he's missing the even bigger picture. Personal computing is mobile now. And even though the phones have as many megabytes, kilotonnes, little clowns or whatever the device greatness is measured in these days, browsing the web on them is still slow as hell.


It's funny that Google is so large, that one way to grow their business is to improve the user experience of the internet as a whole.

User themodelplumber summarizes my argument a lot better than I articulated it, to be honest:

The author seems to argue:
- Small size is not always better, especially when the wait may be worth it for the audience
- Minimalistic design is not always necessary, and in fact it's a good idea to take some risks in the other direction, if it could result in a desired outcome
- Google doesn't have an intrinsic right to dictate best practices. In fact, the idea of a single set of best practices runs counter to the spirit of the web, in which a website can be a creative or cultural experience which transcends convention.
- In addition, on that last item: The web can be more than what it is now. So monolithic standards could easily get in the way.
- Google is going to hold an event and tell visitors how to conduct "modern web development." The author is not comfortable with Google's singular focus on Google's preferred standard and mode of web development being The Only Way, so they are going to attend and push back.

I do wish I’d saved that beautiful featured image for a more carefully-considered essay (or just considered this one much more carefully,) but my take on this particular development (Google holding specific web standards they themselves authored against the ranking of search results) is essentially the same as it’s always been about the company as a whole: though Google’s recklessness likely contains no malice, the power of its influence is simply too vast and profound (in ways we must continue to try to understand) to not discuss every little thing it does at length.


◬ “To protect and slur” | Reveal

More than 50 departments launched internal investigations after being presented with our findings, in some cases saying they would examine officers’ past conduct to see if their online activity mirrored their policing in real life. And some departments have taken action, with at least one officer being fired for violating department policies.

◬ “Inside Nextdoor’s ‘Karen problem” | The Verge

Nextdoor may have launched as an app to “spread the word about a lost dog” or “find a new home for an outgrown bicycle” — and for many, it works pretty well as a hyper-local forum, a more accessible and less spammy alternative to Craigslist — but the company needs to ask itself: how useful is it if black members don’t feel safe on the platform?

◬ “IBM will stop working on facial recognition tech and wants police reform” | Input Magazine

As a long-time leader in technology, IBM’s vocal stance on facial recognition tech and social justice has the power to make massive waves in big tech.

◬ “Insurrection in the Eye of the Beholder” | The Baffler

Where the concept of the black citizen is variable and oscillating, incorporating all previous incarnations of the black American’s legal status, the “white citizen” is an invariable, stalwart image—the original citizen. This helps to explain why white nationalists presume to call themselves “patriots”—aligning themselves with revolutionary founding fathers—all the while committing acts of terror in the name of flag.


YTPMV Podcast with Jab50Yen

Well onto the Extratone beat, it’s great to hear my friend Jab50Yen talk about making a career out of video editing.

There are so many people in this community that are so talented and I get that not everyone wants to go into the entertainment field, but it’s gotta be better than what you’re doing right now.

◬ “Claude Cahun: Jersey’s queer, anti-Nazi freedom fighter” | Huck Magazine

Lucy Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe were unlikely heroes of the island’s resistance. Step-sisters and lovers, they came to Jersey from Paris in 1937 and were known as ‘Les mesdames’ by the islanders. They lived in a stone house with a garden overlooking St Brelade’s Bay, a crescent-shaped beach on the south-west coast. On the surface, it was an idyllic, conventional life. But these women were far from conventional – they spent their lives striving to be different. 


◬ “America is changing, and so is the media” | Ezra Klein for Vox

One interpretation of these events, favored by frustrated conservatives, is that a generation of young, woke journalists want to see the media remade along activist lines, while an older generation believes it must cover the news without fear and favor, and reflect, at the very least, the full range of views held by those in power.

◬ “Indiegraf aims to reimagine the newspaper chain for digital news outlets” | Nieman Lab

Indiegraf launches with seven independent outlets under its wing: IndigiNewsPeterborough CurrentsLa ConverseSpark YQLThe Discourse NanaimoThe Discourse Cowichan, and Sun Peaks Independent News. The majority are brand new, having been launched since mid-March, and led by women.

◬ “New York Times public editor: Enough of ‘all the news.’ Time for what’s fit to print.” | Columbia Journalism Review

◬ “The enduring whiteness of the American media” | The Guardian

◬ “The nerve center of the American news cycle” | Axios

◬ “Never-ending Niches” | Stratechery

◬ “As publishers rethink editorial norms, social media policies must follow” | Columbia Journalism Review

The desire of many journalists to spend less time on Twitter is met with the harsh reality that absence from the platform can work to their career disadvantage.

◬ “Facebook News launches to all in US with addition of local news and video” | TechCrunch

The new product uses journalists to program Facebook News in addition to algorithms to better personalize story selection. Users can react and share articles, but not comment. Users are also able to hide articles, topics and publishers they don’t want to see, which can become problematic in terms of broadening someone’s exposure to the “other side.”

◬ “Facebook Censored an Account Copying Trump's Words for Inciting Violence” | Vice

For more great reads as I find them, join my Reading List channel on Extratone’s Discord Server. You can also find me on Twitter, Mastodon, and just about every other social media service in existence and/or reply to this email with any/all thoughts, relevant or otherwise.

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