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Re: <nettime> Review on David Gugerli's book "Search Engines. The World
Florian Cramer on Thu, 18 Jun 2009 18:14:20 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Review on David Gugerli's book "Search Engines. The World as a Database"

On Tuesday, June 16 2009, 17:02 (+0200), Dennis Deicke wrote:
> In his book Search Engines, The World as a Database (Suchmaschinen, Die Welt
> als Datenbank) the Swiss historian of technology David Gugerli describes the
> forerunners of Internet search engines in the second half of the 20th
> century exemplified by four different case studies. He starts with the
> examination of two German television shows, which Gugerli considers as early
> forms of search engines that were providing certain functions demanded for
> by the society. Furthermore, the author analyses the methods invented by the
> German BKA (The German Federal Criminal Police Office) in the early 1970???s.
> Gugerli then explains the development of search engines using the idea of
> the relational data bank invented by Edgar F. Codd in 1969.

While such research perspectives - TV crime watch shows as precursors of
Google - can be refreshing, I wonder whether they are driven by
institutional logic more than everything else - i.e. the institutional
logic of university media departments which, in their roots and hearts,
are still film and TV studies departments, and at some point in the 90s
were declared responsible for Internet studies simply because they dealt
with stuff on screens.  (Which is the proof in the pudding why terms
like "electronic media" or "new media" are ultimately obscuring the
field of study.) 

Of course, it's historically nonsensical to call a West German TV show
invented in the 1960s the precursor of search engines without
considering, for example, citation indexes (invented in the 1870s) and
bibliographies (known since the 17th century), or punch card-based
census (invented and deployed by Hollerith in the late 19th century), or
Philip Bagley's research and development of computerized "information
retrieval" systems in the early 1950s. Google's "page rank" is, in
itself, a pretty straightforward adaption of classical citation index
bibliometrics (i.e. citation impact factor measurement) for which
statistical formulas existed as early as in 1926 with Lotka's law of
"Frequency distribution of scientific productivity".  Search engines are
simply the product of convergence of all the above systems, machine
database storage and retrieval, census (with its privacy and
surveillance problems known at least since the New Testament),
bibliographical indexing and bibliometric sorting. 

It appears equally dubious, in an international perspective, to pull in
1970s German terrorist searches since the supposed inventions of the
federal police BKA had been known as "dragnet investigation" decades
earlier the anglophone world - after all, as TV studies researchers
should know, "Dragnet" was the most popular radio and television crime
show in the 1950s.

So this looks like more fuel for our debate on the
singularity/international disconnection of German-language media theory,
(For sure, "Aktenzeichen XY" and BKA Rasterfahndung have stamped the
memory of every West German who went through the late 1970s - we
literally played the latter as eight-year-old kids on the street.)


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