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175

From Googol to Guge: The Political Economy of a Search Engine

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(I skipped the stuff about Baidu, but there's some really good stuff about Google)

Lee, M. (2014). From Googol to Guge: The Political Economy of a Search Engine. In McGuigan, L. and Manzerolle, V. (eds) The Audience Commodity in a Digital Age: Revisiting a Critical Theory of Commercial Media. Peter Lang Inc., International Academic Publishers, pp. 175-192

176

[...] Both stories seem to reinforce that Brin and Page, like many America inventors, deserve their great fortune because they have something useful and unique to offer. In popular thinking, because of the raw talent and grand vision of these inventors, their companies should not be criticized. Instead, their inventions should be viewed as technology that positively impacts society, and as knowledge that leads humankind one step away from darkness. [...]

stories: Google's name being a misspelling, and not being incorporated when they received a 100k check

—p.176 by Micky Lee 10 months, 1 week ago

[...] Both stories seem to reinforce that Brin and Page, like many America inventors, deserve their great fortune because they have something useful and unique to offer. In popular thinking, because of the raw talent and grand vision of these inventors, their companies should not be criticized. Instead, their inventions should be viewed as technology that positively impacts society, and as knowledge that leads humankind one step away from darkness. [...]

stories: Google's name being a misspelling, and not being incorporated when they received a 100k check

—p.176 by Micky Lee 10 months, 1 week ago
176

The political economic approach to communication conceptualizes technology as a commodity produced by corporations. The goal of corporations is to maximize profit. Political economist study the process of capital accumulation and examine the evolution and renewal of capitalism. [...]

aw man this is fire

—p.176 by Micky Lee 10 months, 1 week ago

The political economic approach to communication conceptualizes technology as a commodity produced by corporations. The goal of corporations is to maximize profit. Political economist study the process of capital accumulation and examine the evolution and renewal of capitalism. [...]

aw man this is fire

—p.176 by Micky Lee 10 months, 1 week ago
177

[...] By rewarding advertisers who can successfully predict the keywords that users type in and by punishing those who cannot, Google hopes that AdWords can be relevant and useful to online search.

Nevertheless, AdWords is only profitable because it is a vertically integrated system in which Google controls every step of the process by providing search results to users, by selling "keywords" to advertisers, and by providing statistics to marketers. [...]

Despite Google's claims, a vertically integrated advertising system may not be that objective because it is difficult to determine what the exchange value of keywords is. [...] Internet search creates unlimited time because millions of searches take place at any given moment even though only a small number of users see the same ads. In addition, keywords are not exclusive; a number of advertisers can bid for the same keywords. Because of the non-exclusivity and non-scarcity of keywords, their exchange value should be very low, if not close to zero. This is clearly not the case for Google ads [...]

The concept of the audience commodity is crucial to understanding why Google is able to charge advertisers for keywords even though they are neither exhaustive nor exclusive. [...] the exchange value of the audience commodity is imaginary.

—p.177 by Micky Lee 10 months, 1 week ago

[...] By rewarding advertisers who can successfully predict the keywords that users type in and by punishing those who cannot, Google hopes that AdWords can be relevant and useful to online search.

Nevertheless, AdWords is only profitable because it is a vertically integrated system in which Google controls every step of the process by providing search results to users, by selling "keywords" to advertisers, and by providing statistics to marketers. [...]

Despite Google's claims, a vertically integrated advertising system may not be that objective because it is difficult to determine what the exchange value of keywords is. [...] Internet search creates unlimited time because millions of searches take place at any given moment even though only a small number of users see the same ads. In addition, keywords are not exclusive; a number of advertisers can bid for the same keywords. Because of the non-exclusivity and non-scarcity of keywords, their exchange value should be very low, if not close to zero. This is clearly not the case for Google ads [...]

The concept of the audience commodity is crucial to understanding why Google is able to charge advertisers for keywords even though they are neither exhaustive nor exclusive. [...] the exchange value of the audience commodity is imaginary.

—p.177 by Micky Lee 10 months, 1 week ago
178

Since 2009, a number of critical studies of Google have been published. The focus tends to be more on prosumers and on the free labor performed by Google users rather than on the advertising system and the audience commodity. Here I argue that the key to the political economy of Google as a search engine is not the free labor performed by the prosumers, but how the advertising system works. [...]

[...]

Other studies that also discuss the political economy of Google include Kang and McAllister (2011) and Pasquinelli (2009b) [...] suggests that the political economy of Google is the political economy of PageRank. Value accumulation comes from the economies of attetion--which depends on the attention capital of the whole network--and of cognition--which depends on Google being a "rentier" of the Internet. To Caraway (2011), "the media owner rents the use of the medium to the industrial capitalist who is interested in gaining access to an audience" (701). Pasquinelli (2009b) has overlooked that technology only increases productivity, but it does not create surplus value. Fuchs (2012b) has effectively shown that it is erroneous to assume that PageRank produces profits. [...]

useful to cite on the whole audience labour debate

he describes Fuchs' 2011 pub "A contribution to the political economy of Google as "a significant contribution to the understanding of Google's capital accumulation process", but (like me) finds his "notion of prosumers providing free labor is problematic"

—p.178 by Micky Lee 10 months, 1 week ago

Since 2009, a number of critical studies of Google have been published. The focus tends to be more on prosumers and on the free labor performed by Google users rather than on the advertising system and the audience commodity. Here I argue that the key to the political economy of Google as a search engine is not the free labor performed by the prosumers, but how the advertising system works. [...]

[...]

Other studies that also discuss the political economy of Google include Kang and McAllister (2011) and Pasquinelli (2009b) [...] suggests that the political economy of Google is the political economy of PageRank. Value accumulation comes from the economies of attetion--which depends on the attention capital of the whole network--and of cognition--which depends on Google being a "rentier" of the Internet. To Caraway (2011), "the media owner rents the use of the medium to the industrial capitalist who is interested in gaining access to an audience" (701). Pasquinelli (2009b) has overlooked that technology only increases productivity, but it does not create surplus value. Fuchs (2012b) has effectively shown that it is erroneous to assume that PageRank produces profits. [...]

useful to cite on the whole audience labour debate

he describes Fuchs' 2011 pub "A contribution to the political economy of Google as "a significant contribution to the understanding of Google's capital accumulation process", but (like me) finds his "notion of prosumers providing free labor is problematic"

—p.178 by Micky Lee 10 months, 1 week ago
184

Scholars are often so blinded by the "newness" of technology-enabled media that even critical scholars have lost sight in situating the apparently new phenomenon in the continuity and transformation of capitalism. A Marxist approach is necessarily historical materialist. Therefore political economists aim to "[examine] the dynamic forces in capitalism responsible for its growth and change. The object is to identify both cyclical patterns of short-term expansion and contraction as well as long-term transformation patterns that signal fundamental change in the system" (Mosco 2009, 26). Political economists ought to examine the inherent contradictions in capitalism and how capitalism evolves and renews even though--or especially because--it is not a sustainable political economic system. It is thus imperative to examine how corporations seek new capital once they encounter an over-accumulation of capital.

—p.184 by Micky Lee 10 months, 1 week ago

Scholars are often so blinded by the "newness" of technology-enabled media that even critical scholars have lost sight in situating the apparently new phenomenon in the continuity and transformation of capitalism. A Marxist approach is necessarily historical materialist. Therefore political economists aim to "[examine] the dynamic forces in capitalism responsible for its growth and change. The object is to identify both cyclical patterns of short-term expansion and contraction as well as long-term transformation patterns that signal fundamental change in the system" (Mosco 2009, 26). Political economists ought to examine the inherent contradictions in capitalism and how capitalism evolves and renews even though--or especially because--it is not a sustainable political economic system. It is thus imperative to examine how corporations seek new capital once they encounter an over-accumulation of capital.

—p.184 by Micky Lee 10 months, 1 week ago
186

[...] what is new is the relation between productive and finance capital. The financial performance of Google (or any public company) is closely watched by institutional investors. Google, once a darling of a stock market, is now seen as an underperforming company [...] whom Google should please--it is not the users, not the content producers, not even the advertisers, but the investors. [...] The excessive power that investment banks have over public companies may be something new to the trajectory of capitalism, something that occurred since the 1990s in the centuries-long history of capitalism. [...]

not sure how much the specific assessments of Wall Street's behaviour hold up now, but the relationship between SV & finance is important and worth drawing out more

—p.186 by Micky Lee 10 months, 1 week ago

[...] what is new is the relation between productive and finance capital. The financial performance of Google (or any public company) is closely watched by institutional investors. Google, once a darling of a stock market, is now seen as an underperforming company [...] whom Google should please--it is not the users, not the content producers, not even the advertisers, but the investors. [...] The excessive power that investment banks have over public companies may be something new to the trajectory of capitalism, something that occurred since the 1990s in the centuries-long history of capitalism. [...]

not sure how much the specific assessments of Wall Street's behaviour hold up now, but the relationship between SV & finance is important and worth drawing out more

—p.186 by Micky Lee 10 months, 1 week ago
190

Recall the "cute" story of Larry Page and Sergey Brin being handed a $100,000 USD check by a Silicon Valley venture capitalist (who is a German native emigrated to the U.S. after Stanford). This story would not happen just anywhere in the world. This story represents an outcome of the academic-military-industrial complex, which reinforces U.S. domination and political economic advantage. Smythe (1973/1994, 238) said that "there is no socialist road to western capitalist technological development." [...]

literally fire

—p.190 by Micky Lee 10 months, 1 week ago

Recall the "cute" story of Larry Page and Sergey Brin being handed a $100,000 USD check by a Silicon Valley venture capitalist (who is a German native emigrated to the U.S. after Stanford). This story would not happen just anywhere in the world. This story represents an outcome of the academic-military-industrial complex, which reinforces U.S. domination and political economic advantage. Smythe (1973/1994, 238) said that "there is no socialist road to western capitalist technological development." [...]

literally fire

—p.190 by Micky Lee 10 months, 1 week ago