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Tweaking Your Google Experience

Google Co-op is a “platform which enables you to use your expertise to help other users find information.” According to the FAQs, “When you subscribe to someone in the Google Co-op directory, all of that provider’s labels and subscribed links will be added to your Google search results for relevant searches. The labels and links provide new and useful ways to refine your searches.” I think this is a welcome innovation at what I’ve previously described as a “Black Box” information source.

A new book by Samir Chopra and Scott Dexter helps explain the importance of such openness. As Chopra argues,

Software affects our expressive potential in two ways. First, it allows us to express algorithmic ideas as programs written, typically, in high-level programming languages. . . . Second, as executing code, software constrains the ways in which we may interact with a computing device. The grammar of this language of interaction is the set of constraints that my software places on me — the structure within which I must operate if it is to understand me.

[W]e only modify our interactions with a computer if we can modify the code that it runs: the only solution to a frustrating interaction with an inflexible interface is to change the interface. But if the software running on a machine is unavailable for inspection and modification, the expressiveness of our language of interaction is severely restricted.

Admittedly, I worry a bit about a world where pervasive tailoring of search results means that few of us know what types of information others are receiving in response to particular search terms. (Particularly if that information is about me!). But Finland has set forth some practices for dealing with that eventuality, and I’ve suggested others.