Can a dictator be nice, make people trust him and have an unambiguous face? There are a lot of answers to this question and honestly I would be embarrassed if someone asked me to give a precise answer. In real world is difficult to find a person who’s got these characteristics but in virtual world it’s different.
After a short reflection it’s easy to pick out the well-known and super widely-circulated online search engine Google as the number one claimant to the role of Great Dictator of the Net. It’s true the Californian online search engine is not the only It business corporate pursuing aggressive development strategies and having successful partnerships in all around the world stock exchanges. But it’s also true that there are at least three factors distinguishing Google from its direct competitors: it has a clear and clean image, its services are powerful and beautiful and its business in focused on advertising.
Google is a unique and kind of alarming phenomenon: it’s the only internet subject, which knows how to gain the approval on a determined online content with a basis of calculus algorithms and ranking strategies developed in compliance with totally autonomous criteria.
A monster like this couldn’t leave some of the most enterprising protagonists of the international media activism cold. People who have often fought for a democratic and transparent use on the Net. I’m talking about the Austrian duo Ubermorgen ( Hans Bernhard and Lizvlx , the first one is also the founder of the Etoy group. Together they are authors of projects like Vote -Auction of 2000 and Injuction Generator of 2002) and of the GWEI – Google Will Eat Itself project developed in collaboration with Paolo Cirio (a member of the epidemiC collective and author of historical projects like the biennale.Py virus ) and Alessandro Ludovico , founder and director from 1992 of the web site and magazine Neural .
The name of the project itself explains everything in a practical way: if Google seems to be invincible and too big to be defeated the only way to stop it is to exploit its dynamics until it eat itself buying quotes of its shares (managed by the GTTP Ltd. [Google To The People Public Company]) with the money earned by its online advertising. This project is a conceptual work of art, which were created to induce everyone to a deeper reflection on trick hidden in the pixels of one of the most widely-spread in the real world virtual subject.
Mk: Talking about Google you define it as (I verbatim quote) “a form of dictatorship in the net economy” and you very well describe it as a “world of (technical) efficiency and richness (of contents and services) and obviously speed, a shining world starting from the interface design to services like News and search images.” At the same time Google it’s undoubtedly a monopoly in the High Tech world and that it’s acting as a real (and virtual) corporation. What’s your opinion about Google’s success and its communication strategy towards other search engines or It multinationals like Microsoft, Aol etc
Hans: Google used the knowledge of the economic avantgarde of the internet. Second runners up always have a serious advantage over the pioneers. They efficiently put together a technical high-performance invention and a super clean business model. They had the best product at the right time. But mainly they just profited from the crisis of search engines, the blown energies and visions and the fucked up business plans. Until today they stayed upfront as the leader of the pack the competition has underestimated the importance of search – the key interface to accessing information online: Just think about the Microsoft/Netscape browser war instead of fighting the much more important search-engine war.
Alessandro Ludovico: Google is simply the best.
Paolo Cirio: Google is a parasite of an obvious software algorithm indexing the web. The technology that Google uses must be in the public domain, similar to the main Internet protocols & standards.
Mk: In your presentation you very well describe another hidden and complex mechanism: Google’s database that works to collect andarchive users’ personal data which is one of the most efficient internet profiling way. Do you honestly think Google can sell these data to other companies for its marketing strategies?
Hans: No, i don`t think Google will sell the data. Because they already sell the data, but not as raw data but as advertisment knowledge. Google needs a lot of data in order to generate more money in their core-business field: Advertisment. And thats what they do best right now, and thats why GWEI Google Will Eat Itself is targeted exactly at this core-competence and not at search-results and/or other semantic-poetic bullshit.
Paolo: Yes, the data mining is the next big business of digital communications. Indeed the crossing of data from our behaviours on search engines, web sites visited, shopping with electronic payments and tracing of our mobile devices, will be the boom of smart marketing; and the end of privacy. Google already know everything about our life by analyzing our queries on their search engine and going through our private message on the Gmail service. The only way to avoid this process is to do strange things and to behave highly unusal. The more noise you inject into their data base, the more difficult it is for them to understand who you are. To to be free means to be unpredictable.
Mk: You write: “Goole’s position is predominant when it starts a new business with a new service”. You say Google’s effect is “trying to make people appreciate its new business to make it immediately get a dominant position”. Can you explain me better this concept? You think Internet is really a copy of the “real world” with the same analogical dynamics and where the most important subject can make people appreciate something? It’s a little bit frightening
Hans: Right, Google work themselves and buy themselves into a new online-business field on a regular basis. By doing so they automatically become the leader of this new field. They either buy the number one company or they develop the best service around. That is the Google strategy. The problem is, they actually do deliver quality, but at the same time they build monopolies in a very agressive way. And this is not because there is no competition but the glue to a lot of their activity is advertisment and this is their core-competence.
Alessandro: And it’s not supposed to stop, so better react than being alarmed.
Mk: How can Google be really dangerous in your opinion? I mean, do you think Google and the other online infotainment big companies will use and manipulate our knowledge and free information like big television companies do?
Hans: Google says they are just serving information. With this mentality they decide on what results we get and therefore what we see on a daily basis. If they were more open and honest about their position, we could deal with them, but they either either not conscious about it or not willing to do it. Therefore my proposition is to turn Google into a governement controlled public institution: The “buerau for search-engines and digital intentions” (BSDI) would be the name of the department within the United Nations. Alternative to that if Google and ist Shareholders oppose to this idea we could force the whole Google staff to a daily dosis of LSD to create massive chaos that would probably serve the purpose.
Alessandro: It really doesn’t relate to tv. Let’s think how the internet works, or study its basic evolutions in the last decade you’ll see how it’s completely different in its dynamics. Google understand this very well.
Paolo: On the Internet the people have the power. So Darwins law of adaptability to the environment of a technology or a corporation is determinated by what the people like. I hope that with GTTP. Ltd. Google will become OpenSource and self organized by the community – in a very democratic way similar to the Internet.
Mk: Let’s talk about your project. Can you tell me how and when has it started?
Hans: Google Will Eat Itself and it`s mechanism was officially released March 3, 2005 in Johannesburg, South Africa and in Bari, Italy. The process of creation started at the Read_Me 2004 software art festival which was held on the 23-27 of August 2004 in Århus , Denmark . So the incubation process took us more than half a year to focus on the core-principles of Googl, to reduce, to remove all interfering material and to piece together the story. Then in March the actual programming and the production started and the first version of the Web-Site went online April 3, 2005 and the first Google-Share was bought April 19, 2005. The first Exhibition was at The Premises Gallery in Johannesburg , April 2, 2005. The first informal emails to opinion leaders around the world were sent out right after the release of the Web-Site during a 2 month period. The first official press-release was issued December 26, 2005.
So GWEI was practically non-existent, at least officially, although we received a honorary mention from the Prix Ars Electronica, a Rhizome.org Comission, featured on runme.org the Software Art Repository and are nominated for the Transmediale Award 06 and the Viper Award 06. One of our main tasks parallel to running the online project is to transform material from and about the piece for gallery and museum exhibitions. GWEI is a highly conceptual piece. The visualisation of Google Will Eat Itself through diagrams was practical explain the mechanism and represent the whole project in a pure & aesthetic form. A minimalistic visual approach to a minimalistic business art & lega art project. The use of the overhead projector -each projector is individual in color and intensity of light- brought a sensitive do-it-yourself light-sculpture into the white-cube. . www.gwei.org/exhibitions – www.gwei.org/diagrams
Mk: you talk about hackering Google’s self-reference and acting as parasites working against Google’s strategy to appropriate users’ contents and money returning back to publishers small quantity of money earned with Google’s advertising services. How did you technically work on GWEI? Can you explain me how does it work?
Hans: It works as simple as the concept is, thats also the reason for it`s technical, business and media success. We use a series of about 40-50 Google Adsense-accounts. These accounts enable you to carry little Google advertisments on your web-site. Each time one of your visitors / users clicks on one of the advertisments you earn a small amount of money. Now Google has a nice information- and accounting system where you can see statistics and your account balance. They pay you by check or bank-transfer on a monthly basis. With the money we earn from these Adsense-accounts we regularly go and buy Google-Shares we currently own 40 Google Shares (it`s hard to say how much that is worth because the Google Share is highly volatile). Now how do we get enough clicks on our advertisment to make money. Paolo Cirio [epidemiC] created a network of semi-intelligent robots. Each time someone visits one of our many public Web-Sites (i.e. ubermorgen.com), the initiation-robot Al-Munba’ith (“one who lies”) jumps into action and starts a complex manipulation by talking to Alexander”, the triggering-robot, activating some of the hidden web-sites and their Google advertismens.
Usually Google detects fraud very fast and early, but we created a human-machine network. Google Will Eat Itself works by using a social phenomenon rather than depending on a purely technical method (for example a simple click-farm). Because of this social dimension empowered by technology, Google is not able to fight GWEI and it`s franchises by using their regular counter-fraud methods.
Paolo: The software I developed is a set of robots that work on a large network of web sites. In abstract it is a generator of human behavior, and it is activated the moment someone visit one of our “catch” web sites, so when it is triggered, it does clicks and impressions on hidden phony blogs with AdSense banners. Each time someone visits a web site of our network, s/he doesn’t see a banner or have visual feedback from the site. S/he just reads the content, but covertly the robots work simulating real unique humans, the source being a real unique computer with a real unique connection clicking on a hidden network.
Mk: How can publishers and users enter your network of hidden web sites and how does GTTP work?
Hans: We work together with publishers and artists individually. Anybody interested to collaborate can contact us: email@example.com . TTP Google To The People is very simple you just go to the Web-Site, fill out the form and wait until your Share-Certificate arrives through the postal services. This may take some months, because we are not issueing yet (official launch of the company is June 2006). – http://www.gwei.org/gttp - http://www.gwei.org/forum
Mk: How big should this network be to destroy this complex mechanism of global advertising (I red something like 3.443.287.037 millions of years )
Hans: I am not good in math, all i know is that we have to create of global movement of GWEIs and we have to stay fast and flexible, like the Giant itself. Google is moving steadily, they split their Shares, they buy and sell companies, they stay on top of things by being hyperactive. Because we are a conceptual art piece, it is much more important to infiltrate the minds of the people, to screw around with the perception of things. Quite a lot of people think Google Will Eat Itself is a fun project, a good laugh. Yes it is but at the same time it is basic research: Soren Pold is correct: “This is indeed cybernetic critique!”. We are looking for the intellectual and conceptual boundaries. By simplifiying we transfigure the complex mechanism into a comprehensible code.
Alessandro: If you keep in mind that this is a conceptual art piece, it can change the world (as any other conceptual art piece), no matter how many million years it’d take. – http://www.gwei.org/text
Mk: In your web site there’s a very funny section dedicated to the letters Google receives. What’s your impression and opinion about it?
Hans: These are standard anti-fraud account-closing letters. Google behaves like VISA or Master Card in dealing with fraud. They know they have to accept a certaub amount of fraud, they fight it as hard as they can. Although we now hear that click-fraud go up to 30-40%, which would render the Advertisment programs obsolete. The Google letters are just [F]originals (forged original documents) claiming authenticity by originating from a Google account – announcing the termination of one Adsense account. – http://www.gwei.org/googleletters
Mk: Do you think a dictator can be funny? Do you think there’s a parallelism between Google and for example the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi?
Hans: By being entertaining. The best dictators arer the best entertainers, the best choreographers of spectacle. Think about Germany or Italy 60 years back in history. Silvio Berlusconi is certainly not a great entertainer..
Lizvlx: I guess dictators are not funny by intent, but merely by being ridiculous. Google itself is not ridiculous, but the way Google represents the digital world. If Berlusconi is just as well ridiculous when he is representing I leave that up to decide for our Italian partners .
Alessandro: Oh, sure. There are rumours that a small firm (the name is still undiscovered) controlled by one of the many Berlusconi’s owned companies, is developing the code of the next AdSense upgrade.
Paolo: Yes, both are funny only in order to bring consensus. But Berlusconi has the fashion of a evil dictator and a genius of scam. Google, communicates trust and fun to the people by a good and honest image of themselves. Both have the monopoly of information.