On the need to *capitalise* Google’s 2001 index

Late last week I read of Google’s latest anniversary gift to search.

Charles Arthur at the Guardian took a look at a fascinating little search experiment – for one month only you can search for results within Google’s Index from 2001 alongside those same results from today.

Of course much focus has fallen on the absence of products and services which we take for granted today. But in form and content, this initiative speaks both to the development of the search experience, and of our life and times.

There was far less content back then – 1,326,920,000 pages, where just a few months ago Google had detected (if not indexed) it’s trillionth page. As a by-product of this (depending on your stance on the whole chicken and egg nature of web evolution) the simplicity of feel and uncomplicated nature of the results pages is as near an online palliative for the hard-pressed professional searcher as two Ibuprofen and half an hour in a darkened room.

How could we have we got to the stage where we need domain filters, conversion tables, salient quotes, clustered results, picture- and video- embedded results and every other aid under the sun to help us make sense of the web, in a mere seven years?

How can it be that seven years after this most blunt of search instruments, today we are bombarded with demands to GOOGLE things we read of on billboards in train stations, and around our cities?

And how have we moved from the Presbyterian simplicity of this 2001 interface, to the seductive commercial temptress Google has now become, with it’s sponsored links, and weighting toward commercial sites? (theres no mention of how the 2001 algorithm compares with the present day one)

It all seems incredible, but maybe not quite as incredible as how search in a further seven years might evolve.

In any case, it’s only a shame that Google couldn’t dust off their 1998 index – according to the FAQ this just wasn’t possible.

1998 brought us the first publication of John Gray’s False Dawn – which portended the demise of the neo-liberal economic ideology we have been watching teeter on the brink of collapse for the past couple of weeks.

Though it’s not possible to do a 1998-2008 site comparison, it’s nonetheless interesting to compare, say, the the Lehman Brother’s site of today, with that of 2001.*.

A couple of weeks back, Boing Boing snarked at the recruitment videos on the Lehman Brothers site. Their website is still beaming out the unabashed (and mindless) corporate hubris which got them (and us?) into this fine financial mess, several weeks after the company ceased to exist.

Back in 2001, Lehman Brothers were still riding the crest of the 90s financial bubble. As their news ticker attested to: Lehman Brothers Breaks Into Top Five in Equity Research Team Rankings, Lehman Brothers Ranks First in Fixed Income Research for the Second Year in a Row etc.

They were proudly proclaiming their 10 Uncommon Values back then – A Tradition of Outperformance as they put it, which took a good seven years to finally catch up with them, and lay waste to a 150-year-old investment company.

But they were also providing advice for their employees in relation to the tragedy of 9/11, which impacted the company in a very direct way (one of their employees was killed).

This example is of real value to victims of the atrocity, to the search public, and to future historians, but also to anyone wishing to chronicle these times by means of documentary or feature.

It’s just a shame this experiment will only last for a month – it’s ongoing value to society is hard to measure, especially given we have (at present) no alternative means (i.e. index) of accessing it.

In which case – wouldn’t it make sense for a public library to stake its claim on this index?

Sure, we have the archive.org, from which all of these results are drawn. But indices have their value too – a value which surely shouldn’t be left to private hands, to weather the storms that markets throw at them.



*Not least because my copy of False Dawn has a foreword from 2002, updating the central thesis of the book in light of 9/11, and the isolationist policies which contributed to the development of those failed states which allowed Al Qaeda to thrive.


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