Theory and Foundations of Search + Personalization: Testing the Filter Bubble + Showcasing Alternative Search Engines
In an environment of unknown links and information, the practice of searching is becoming a key to *desired* information. Links have strategic importance like the roads and waterways which gave birth to settlements and businesses that could exploit location. Search engines are similarly strategic entry points to the Web. And because search-engines like Google wouldn’t exist if they weren’t profitable, queries must be taken as reflections of users’ desires. These desires are then treated as data that can be used in the further exploitation of the users. They incorporate mechanisms which highlight the information that best matches earlier desires. Each individual faces their own desires reflected back at them.
These reflections however are mixed with the desires of the search engine’s own operator/owner. Some are based on their interpretation of the users’ search requirements. Google has explicit filters for parental control of children, and implicit filters of porn. Others come from external pressures : political, as in China, and commercial (including accusations of bias towards popular brands). Google, in order to continue its dominance as the “gateway” to the web has to seem as if it both reflects what is “out there” and the desires of its users – despite these biases.
We are an artistic unit that addresses and responds to these issues and the aesthetic language of search. Our materials are “visibility” and “invisibility” and we consider search itself as an artistic medium.
Our initial project, Narcissus is a search-engine that critically questions positive feedback mechanisms used in popular search & social tools. (Google PageRank, Twitter “follow” recommendations.) The code critiques both itself and its users by pushing popular search results into a netherworld of the mathematical “imaginary” and confronting searchers with results that have been previously rejected. This shadow/dark information is made by both time and clicks.
Narcissus both raises theoretical issues and offers a practical tool to find neglected and obscure information. Narcissus uses visibility and invisibility to critique the aesthetics and practicalities of search. How search is linked – or not – with “finding” in a search-based society? How does “search” with a system designed to highlight the obscure differ from attempts to harness serendipity?
Projects that followed Narcissus build upon the search engine and expand into other areas, bringing our concerns and languages to physical space.
“Shadow Spot” is an urban activity that highlights invisible places in urban environments using mobile devices and the Narcissus algorithm.
In “Thames-Town” we show London residents photographs of a borough of Shanghai which is built to look like an English city, and ask them if they look familiar. In essence, we engage their misrecognitions (another in/visibility material) in the search for familiar/unfamiliar information.
For the Reader we will present a dialogue between the Narcissus artists, Phil Jones and Aharon Amir, which will explore these ideas of search as an artistic practice; how the querying of data, our imagination of this practice, is made of various reflections and shades of the self.