Working the Google spider

I had a shock on Google Scholar when I put in one of my usual search terms, young antipolitics, found an unread article, and found that it was mine. My name in lights! Well, Google lights, anyway. The paper is a literature review I wrote for a master’s course and I had placed it on my University website to point interested folk at a conference towards it. I guess the Google scholar robots stumbled on it and figured with a bath.ac.uk address it must be legit.

noone reads alt text these days

It’s automatic (source: capnskull.com)

The paper has been graded now – it was alright – but for a good month or so the top result for young antipolitics on Google scholar was some old junk I had parcelled onto a uni website without any reading or review. I reckon the Google robots must check references with some accuracy – you can surf through articles that cite each other – but in the end, it turns out like Wikipedia. Can you really be sure who writes what you find on the internet?

Of course, we’re all good students and take web papers with a pinch of salt. You check the name of the journal, you recognize the major citations… and so on. What’s interesting to me here isn’t the potential to fall foul of Google’s robots but ways we as students can play the robots at their own game: juice up our papers to look good to robots, get the top spot on Google scholar, cross-reference our research blogs, and so on. Coming up with a cracking neologism – antipolitics is an accidental one – and stamping your name on it as a search term might be one way to do it.

And wouldn’t that be great, if some day, some stranger typed your name into Google and got a wonderful academic treatise, rather than the Facebook account of a dude in Iowa by the same name…

Conceptualizing Facebook as a city

As a visitor to Facebook and not a resident – I don’t maintain an account there myself – it’s been interesting to see how people interact with you when you say you’re not on the site. Usually they say “good on you” or “I will leave it myself, some day…”

What’s striking to me is that people say similar things about living in the countryside rather than the city. Leaving Facebook is a plan for the future, an idealistic thing, maybe something to do for your kids.

This got me thinking about conceptualizing Facebook as a city, and how it relates to that old dead metropolis Geocities. Urban planning isn’t something related to my research but the principles around identity and belonging are not far off, at least; and I found it an interesting thought experiment. We live online, with our friends and colleagues. What kind of a place is the internet – as an accumulation of people working and living together – turning into, should it follow Facebook’s model?

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Now this: this is a city.

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