Archive for February, 2008


February 28, 2008

The first step in my preparation is to think about how and where I default to google. I see these defaults occurring in two realms – language and Web browsing.

1.  Language.  I need to pay attention to when I use “google” as a verb, and to stop.  It turns out it is a bit clunky to say “I performed a Web search on X” instead of “I googled X.”  But, of course, at first it was completely freakish to hear someone say “I googled X,” and now it is more or less natural. (“Natural.”)  So – language is flexible, as are conversational norms.

2. Web browsing.  This is the tricky part.

2a. Safari.   I am a Mac user, have been for 16-ish years, and am currently using Safari pretty much exclusively.  Like most other Mac-heads I have gone to and fro between Netscape, IE, Mozilla, Firefox, a little bit of Opera, a little bit of Camino, and that’s pretty much it.  I ended up with Safari because Mozilla was getting a little too clunky and the other alternatives were a little too weird, or something, I don’t know.One of the great things about Safari is that it has this handy little search window in the upper-right corner, next to where you type the http addresses.  It’s part of the default toolbar set.  It’s integrated with the address bar–and the default is “address and search.”  This feature, in light of how I want to March, is now a big problem.  Not only can I not get rid of the search field; I can’t figure out how to change it from google to, say, yahoo or ask or whatever.  I suppose I could just ignore it, and perhaps add a very prominent bookmark to my bookmarks bar, just under where the field that says “Google” (yes it even says Google, and I don’t think I can get that to go away either).  But I have a feeling I would slip up and still instinctively type into the Google search bar.  [I should also add that I am in a busy stretch right now, and I don’t have all day to cruise the Mac boards and Help menus–let alone find widgets or plug-ins to download and install–to try to figure out little work arounds.]So I reluctantly decided I need to exit Safari, too.

2b. Switching.  I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this.  Anyone who has switched browsers knows what a pain it is.  Sure there are tools to import bookmarks etc etc; but it is still a pain.  I don’t just say this from the point of view of “the lay user” (whose rhetorical position I am claiming); I seem to remember an antitrust suit in which switching from one browser to another played a major part….  Indeed, as the heaps and heaps of scholarship on standards, network externalities, lock-in, and switching costs indicates, once a customer/user is sufficiently “locked in” it takes greater and greater amounts of motivation and effort to switch.  Well, since I am motivated (although I am already wondering how motivated I am, why I have chosen to resist Google), I am switching.  It’s actually not too bad–a little bit of inconvenience and a small amount of time; I can think of other forms of switching (jobs, houses, etc) that would be much tougher to pull off.

2c. Firefox (again).  I like Firefox.  I like open source.  But the last time I used it regularly, which has to have been a couple of years ago now, it was  a bit clunky and was doing some weird things with some plug-ins.  But when I was doing my dissertation, I was doing a lot of work from home and using databases such as JSTOR and WorldCat that require campus-based (IP-based) authentication.  Safari, even though it had the virtues of being less clunky and less weird, was difficult to use with the whole proxy server regime that Hopkins was using.  So I was using Safari as a “play” browser and Firefox, which was easy to use with Hopkins’s proxy server regime, was my “work” browser.  Then they rolled out their VPN (or maybe they discontinued the proxy server so I had to use the VPN), and then I could use Safari for work and play.  As a result, Firefox sits in my dock, unused and neglected.  Until now.  I’m told Firefox has “gotten much better recently”–less clunky and so on, so I’ll have to make sure I have the latest and greatest version.  With the version I have, I can actually change the default search engine in the upper-right search field.  Google, champion of the anti-Microsoft Web people, is of course the default.  But I also can choose to make Yahoo, or, or Creative Commons [?!?], or eBay my default search engine.  Or, of course, add my own.  Or….

2d. Camino.  In my experience, Camino has been sleek and slick, with some hiccups, again usually with multimedia plugins.  Something that, I suppose, could be remedied with a little bit of time and effort (or clue, as the insiders say).  For present purposes, it is differnet from Safari insofar as the search bar and address bars are not linked.  So even though I can’t figure out a way to change the default search engine from Google to something else, I at least have the option of junking the search field altogether.  Since I really like the search field, I don’t know if this is my favorite option.  But if Firefox gets too clunky, it may be my best option.

2e. Opera.  Unlike Camino but like Firefox, Opera lets the user choose his/her default search engine. (Again, this is assuming I will continue to happily and unproblematically live in this world where a search field in the upper-right corner of the browser is a major determinant of which browser I am using.)  I haven’t played with Opera in a long time, but I am glad to see they have gotten rid of the ads.  It looks a little bit different–the default is for the tab bar to be above the address bar (it’s a REVOLUTION!!!), but there appear to be a good amount of toolbar customization schemes that should keep me busy for a while.I suppose I could look up some sort of browser review articles on Cnet or whatever, but what I should really do is get back to work.

By tomorrow I hope to choose a new primary browser–for now I am writing this on Safari, and shamelessly and relentlessly continuing to use Google for all my search needs.

Must.  March.  Away.

An experiment in choice

February 23, 2008

Decline and Exit

I keep hearing anti-Google sentiment: they are gaining too much market share, they seem to be likely to run into copyright trouble with the book-scanning project, their secretive server farms use exorbitant amounts of energy, they are too opaque about what they do with their collection of personal information, they have given in to state censorship, and so on. 

When one considers all of these various anti-Google sentiments together, one might say Google is in a state of decline.

In 1970 the economist Albert Hirschmann published a book titled Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States.  In the book, Hirschmann explored the three (rather intuitive) options—exit, voice, and loyalty—that members of any human grouping can exercise.  Most people, myself included, have responded to Google’s decline with loyalty.  Some have felt the need to voice complaints.  Very few, as far as I can tell, have decided to exit.

Well, I’ve changed my mind.  I have decided to try to exit. 

I am going to spend March Away From Google. 

Between now and the end of February I will outline how I use Google on a regular basis, what I plan to do in order to March Away, and what I think I might learn.  I haven’t the least desire to take part in flame wars about whether or not Google is turning evil or not.  I actually don’t really have a strong opinion on the matter–although this experiment has been inspired in part by a conversation with Siva Vaidhyanathan, who has some very strong opinions.  As far as I know, I don’t know anybody who works for (or even used to work for) Google, so I don’t have any sort of personal agenda or disclaimer at all.  I am just curious to see what happens when one tries to exit Google.  

If you want to join me–if you also want a March Away From Google–let me know and we can trade notes.