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Search engine bias: the structuration of traffic on the World-Wide Web

Van Couvering, Elizabeth (2010) Search engine bias: the structuration of traffic on the World-Wide Web. PhD thesis, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

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Abstract

Search engines are essential components of the World Wide Web; both commercially and in terms of everyday usage, their importance is hard to overstate. This thesis examines the question of why there is bias in search engine results – bias that invites users to click on links to large websites, commercial websites, websites based in certain countries, and websites written in certain languages. In this thesis, the historical development of the search engine industry is traced. Search engines first emerged as prototypical technological startups emanating from Silicon Valley, followed by the acquisition of search engine companies by major US media corporations and their development into portals. The subsequent development of pay-per-click advertising is central to the current industry structure, an oligarchy of virtually integrated companies managing networks of syndicated advertising and traffic distribution. The study also shows a global landscape in which search production is concentrated in and caters for large global advertising markets, leaving the rest of the world with patchy and uneven search results coverage. The analysis of interviews with senior search engine engineers indicates that issues of quality are addressed in terms of customer service and relevance in their discourse, while the analysis of documents, interviews with search marketers, and participant observation within a search engine marketing firm showed that producers and marketers had complex relationships that combine aspects of collaboration, competition, and indifference. The results of the study offer a basis for the synthesis of insights of the political economy of media and communication and the social studies of technology tradition, emphasising the importance of culture in constructing and maintaining both local structures and wider systems. In the case of search engines, the evidence indicates that the culture of the technological entrepreneur is very effective in creating a new megabusiness, but less successful in encouraging a debate on issues of the public good or public responsibility as they relate to the search engine industry.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2010 Elizabeth Van Couvering
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HE Transportation and Communications
T Technology > T Technology (General)
Sets: Departments > Media and Communications
Collections > LSE History of Thought theses
Supervisor: Mansell, Robin
URI: http://etheses.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/41

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