An Open Letter to Elon Musk - What about Freedom to Seek?
28 October 2022
As you well know freedom of expression is under assault. Fresh and diverse approaches are needed to protect, and nurture, this fundamental human right online. Suppression of debate and dissenting voices is a dark road for all of us. The control of information by the powers-that-be happening in web search is equally disturbing.
History rhymes. The internet is bringing up challenges that came to a head in 1664 with the printing press. Where once the unelected power of the church and state sought to prevent Milton publishing, today we have online platforms taking down legal, and well-considered content - notably from, as you put it, citizen and individual journalists.
Whilst the main battleground appears to be over free speech, a subtler and deeper problem is increasingly prevalent in search. As I wrote in May in “Freedom to Seek Matters” too, as few yet realise:
“If Twitter has a freedom of speech problem, then Google has a freedom to seek problem.”
We wish you, and the people at Twitter, well in tackling this important problem. We have some empathy for analogous challenges that we face. Of course, in our case we face those seeking to game search engines. Google started to tackle this gaming and provide good ranking with PageRank, whilst we have our own citation relevance algorithm called Gravity.
Yes, we love space too! Indeed I once worked on the ISS (International Space Station); helping design for, and mitigate space debris threats. An object travelling at 10 km/s can do a hell of a lot of damage, as your SpaceX team will know.
But I digress. Returning to software threats, like any search engine we too are deluged with automated bots. Many are from actors seeking to grab the very useful data that search provides, using scraping. It’s an ongoing fight to keep them out, but we largely succeed. They might too by using our API, like others that pay to play fairly.
At Mojeek we are focussed on the freedom to seek. Alternative ways to navigate, discover and transact on the web are crucial and more so as Google changes, and becomes more of an answer engine rather than providing search. As one of few truly independent search engines (not a proxy of Bing, like DuckDuckGo and many others) we are not captured by Microsoft, nor Huawei, nor correlated with Google as a ground truth. Diversity of information sources matters massively so being like Google, or Bing, is not a profound contribution.
Why does this independence matter more and more, in recent times? Exhibit A: Google and the UN “own the science”:
People with reason argue that Google, like Twitter, is free to make censorship decisions as a business. But when a market is monopolized, as it is more so in search by Google and Microsoft’s Bing, then we actually have a massive freedom to seek problem. After all, what doesn’t show, you may never know.
When Bing indexes no posts for a former New York Times journalist Chris Hedges, where do we go to search? Exhibit B:
When Bing prominently displays what someone thinks of you above organic search results, do we have a freedom to seek problem? I present you, Chief Twit, Exhibit C:
Unlike many others we have no views on how your team should tackle the challenges, and fulfil the potential that Twitter has. The devil is in the details so the Twitter team, and soon you, will know best.
A search engine with no cookies? Yes, some think we are radicals. But come now, it does not stop us providing relevant contextual ads. The power of search is that a query expresses intent.
Congratulations, and in closing:
“If Twitter is about freedom of speech, then Mojeek is about the freedom to seek.”
No Tracking. Just Search...
28 October 2022