Google: Good News + Advanced Study of SEM (1)Written by Julen Madariaga on January 21st, 2010
You might be wondering why this story of Google is taking up so much space in this otherwise low-tech blog. I am as well. I think what fascinates me is the almost complete absence of first hand news after the G bomb. The time is for speculation, and for China bloggers and tea leave readers like me, it feels like we are right in our element. To the rest, welcome to China.
Yesterday I imagined a worst case scenario where Google let ugly international politics get mixed into this affair. That was just a scenario of doom, and not the outcome I consider most likely. In fact, I believe the G leaders are more intelligent than all that, and today I want to offer my personal, optimistic prediction. And to round it up, we will go back to the basics for a little study of Search Engine Manipulation, an essential and often ignored concept.
I was glad to hear today that Google wants to retain its operations in China, and that it is “ready to shut down its local search engine Google.cn unless it is allowed to run it uncensored”.
The key info here is “shut down its local search engine”. This would mean that Google is not going to force the situation anymore. Because the best way to piss off the CCP today would be to suddenly uncensor Google.cn without notice, and have the Propaganda Department issue an official note to close the servers. The document would be in all the headlines, and that would represent an unmistakeable challenge to the CCP’s authority.
But as it stands today, regardless of the old “face” arguments that some commentators have written, I don’t think the situation is critical. The CCP is not particularly happy to see Google leave, and if Google keeps its blogging enthusiasm under control, there is no reason why they will not be lenient. For all the bad points I noted in Google’s initial post, it has the great advantage of being ambiguous. Most Chinese people haven’t read the text, and the CCP can ignore the ultimatum implied and ascribe it to bad Laowai manners, a la emperor Qing.
I am predicting that if Google comes back to reason and avoids big game politics in the coming weeks, in exhange for that the Chinese government will let them get away with the rest. Well, probably Google will encounter some administrative trouble in their business, their Android plans might take ages to get approved, because the CCP needs to give a lesson to other audacious companies in the future.
But that is a problem of Google and its shareholders. What really matters to us is the freedom and openness of the Chinese internet, and here is the big news of the day: if Google.cn closes and Google.com remains, the Chinese internet will be MORE FREE THAN IT IS TODAY! You don’t believe me? Keep reading to find out why.
Google.com and Google.cn
One interesting thing of the Google search engines that is not very well understood is the difference between the different country sites: Google.com, Google.cn, Google.co.uk, etc. People don’t understand this simply because Google does not explain it in the instructions, and because it has changed over time.
But it is very easy to do some tests and compare the search results to come to this conclusion: what really matters is not the extension of the search engine, but your actual location. The simple reality is that, for Chinese non-SEM search terms (more below), the results in China for Google.com and Google.cn are exactly IDENTICAL. They have the same results in the same order, differing only in the sponsored ads.
If you are in China you can try this by looking up neutral terms like 上海浦东 or 鞋子. Google.com and Google.cn share indeed a single index, and the only difference between them is SEM, or the Manipulation of Search Engine results artificially done by Google in its Google.cn search engine. For various reasons that we will see below, this SEM is the shame of Google and the curse of the Chinese internet. Not only China, but Google Inc. and the whole World is much better off without Google.cn.
This means that, if Google operates smoothly and succeeds to retain in China its PR&D operations, it is very possible that in exchange the CCP will allow them to keep Google.com unblocked (GFW). Then the Chinese netizens, free of the scourge of Google.cn, will click on Google.com, and automatically be free of the brainwashing effects of Google.cn.
Search Engine Manipulation (Introduction)
I know athe conslusions above might sound a bit strange, and there are clearly a few objections that you can make. Namely, that URL and IP blocks still affect the sites you find on Google.com, producing the beautiful Reset Connections (RC) that we are so used to. But there are very important reasons to prefer the Google.com way to the Google.cn way. I need to get some sleep, but stay tuned and tomorrow I will give you the explanation and some nice pictures as evidence.
In the meantime, re-read last year’s study on SEM, RC and all the other creatures. And to start heating up, I leave you with this nice picture of what a Google.com search gives in China, without VPN or proxy or any other special device. This has remained exactly the same in the two years I have been monitoring. There is no real technical reason why Google does not apply SEM here, it must have negotiated with the government when they first came to China, and the CCP must have bought that all Chinese would go to Google.cn.
This time I have done the search in English so anyone can try it. Note the conspicuous results including bloody photos, the youtube video of the tank man, mentions of massacre and Charter 08, and also the remarkable 3rd position of our well pageranked friend Peking Duck. The FLGs own Epch times comes right below, but it was left out of my screen capture. You can see it yourself at home searching tiananmen 89.
CORRECTION: Error in the original text, where I wrote SARFT I actually meant “Propaganda Department”. Fortunately I noticed my slip before any commenter called me an idiot. It is corrected. More coming later today.