*Recap: Deep Search II Conference, Vienna, 28.05.2010

Unfortunately I could only attend the afternoon sessions of the Deep Search II Conference, which turned out to be a real shame as most of the presentations were outstanding.

As I am sure that he organizers will provide a transcript etc. I will just try to communicate the look&feel of this conference. Thus the content below doesn’t really have a structure but mostly resembles the ideas I scribbled into my notepad while listening. As the statements  just express my personal opinion and I do not intend to offend or to make anybody feel depressed.

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Elizabeth von Couvering held a brilliant presentation about Search Engine Bias and the Public Interest in which she explained that the ranking of search engines is usually driven by the expectation of the users and thus search engine results are always somewhat biased. She then went on to the issue of an informed citizenship as a kind of pre-requirement for democracy and later in the discussion stressed that maybe also the market itself should establish (self binding) rules and ethic standards  to guarantee neutrality (or less bias, depends…). After an extremely well done (looks like I will have to rewrite the respective chapter in my dissertation) historical overview (please see the draft chapter of her thesis) on search engines and their business models she closed with the remarks that the the issue of search engines is not about information retrieval, but it’s about sales (of advertisement) and urged a discussion on the role of the public in this respect.

One aspect I’d also like to highlight is that von Couvering also indicated (and later confirmed upon my request) that the quality of search engines (or the size of the index) correlated with the expected advertising revenues. Thus if courts restrict their abilities to create advertising revenues (“not worth while“) this would (taking into account all the costs SE have to run their business) effectively have a negative effect on the quality of search results.

All in all I’d like to agree with von Couvering but as I am convinced that people just ain’t no good I wonder if self-binding ethical standards are able to improve the whole situation. Unfortunately at the same time I don’t think laws will do either… (I know this is a depressing thought, but what about this ‘Code‘ that is supposed to solve all the problems of the web?)

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Matteo Pasquinelli spoke about the Surplus and the Immaterial: Political Notes on the ‘Industrial Revolution of Data’ and referred for most of his presentation to an article from the Economist. I think I didn’t really get the point of his presentation. I agree with the assumption that the mass of data created is steadily increasing and that it eventually might exceed the storage and computing capabilities. Pasquinelli however ended up kind of referring to the big service providers (Google, Facebook, etc. ) as “capitalists” (or “the new landlords“) who allow indigent users to use (live inside) their services. In return for the right to use these services the users generate data/information/content which the landlord later owns for his own good.

Although I have to admit that the idea is very interesting I think Pasquinelli effectively failed to explain his theory in a bit more detail or to consider the fact that users are not (yet) dependent on these services but use them to creates extra joy in their lives and that thus the comparison with the poor worker (who is forced to live in the landlord’s house as a shelter) is a bit far-fetched and thus not fully convincing.

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dr mc schraefel gave a stunning talk about Building Knowledge: What’s Beyond Keyword Search? and even being aware of the arrogant tone of this statement, I have to admit that her presentation was the first in quite some time that left me speechless as not only the content of her presentation was anything but brilliant but at the same time her slides were clear, appealing and I’d almost go as far as saying that they had an artistic touch… (I reckon pretty much everything done on a Mac looks great, right? If you’re curious by now, you can find most of the ideas of her presentation also on her blog.)

Her (jumpy, active and highly enthusiastic) presenting style pretty much reminded me of Burkard Schafer who used this style to teach (or at least tried to teach) his sleep deprived master students some basic principles of AI.


Trying to sum up all the aspects Schraefel mentioned (apart from the geek health tips, see the picture above) one point was that data wants and should be free as only free data will enable serendipity (unexpected) discoveries. Another point that caught my attention was the remark that in the future everything will be visible an that it makes no sense drafting laws to prevent this inevitably things from happening but instead the relevant institutions should focus on modifying existing or creating new norms that will penalize the abuse of data.

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Dr. Karl H. Müller in his remarkable talk (From a Tiny Island of Survey Data to the Ocean of Transactional Data) critically questioned the quality of survey data and graphical representations thereof.

Although everybody in the room, already before his talk, would have agreed with the statement that none should believe any study he/she hasn’t falsified him/herself, Müller provided the audience with alerting examples on how questionable the quality of survey data can be. E.g. he provided an example where a question about the personal general life-happiness of the survey participant accidentally got used twice in a questionnaire and surprisingly led to the result that the person’s perception of her/his general happiness significantly changed within twenty minutes.


Finally there are three remarks I’d like to make:

1: Great location. I had already passed the Hotel Imperial Riding School Vienna in Vienna a couple of time but I’ve never found my way in. So everybody expecting geeky IT-researchers conspiring in nerdy computer lab facilities would be baffled finding the conference to take place in the luxurious halls of the hotel. Not to mention the buffet…

2: As Austria is still a dreadfully conservative country the usual ration of men v women is usually 3 men for one woman when it comes to IT (law). Thus I was pleasantly surprised to see that the majority of the audience were actually females.🙂

3: IT-jurists, as all jurists I suppose, are kind of walking one-man-companies thus jurists are usually extremely reluctant to clearly state in the course of an academic discussion that the are of a different opinion as this at them same time would mean criticism in their colleague’s skills and far worse their business. Thus the average excitement level of an IT-law discussion in Austria is usually doomed to be as high and breathtaking as speeches at UN-conferences. Not so however at the Deep Search 2 conference.

Once the discussion had gained some speed it actually got quite exciting and it was great to see that the people sitting there were not sitting there just to make the name of their law firm appear on the agenda but because they had very profound knowledge about their subject and maybe even more important, they were truly passionate about it. (Yes, I know…)

One aspect that might have even increased this impression was the fact that during the discussion some of the panelists were  still wearing their head microphones which boosted their “quiet silent sighs” clearly audible into the room. 😉

1 Response to “*Recap: Deep Search II Conference, Vienna, 28.05.2010”


  1. 1 mc 08/06/2010 at 19:57

    Thank you for the great recap.
    and thanks for your kind words about slide clarity.

    some of the discussion i really enjoyed was around the role of capitalism in what’s become the most critical utility.
    one of the questions i had during the panel discussion still perturbs me: while google has become a kind of a for-profit monopoly cum service, we actually use the web as a utility. We have a couple models for utilities: state controlled or privately held. both have significant problems in terms of motivation for service provision. Regulation we’ve seen of private corps has been rather fraught as well. What we didn’t discuss are all the services google is providing at national/govnt’s levels to hold collections of data. Ask the french about selling the louvre as an asset effectively to google. These may be more devastating: what if google turns off the tap while holding all these assets?

    maybe if we get rid of capitalism, the google issue will be fixed too – in other words, google is just a great nother example of capitalism. perhaps the digital economy will replace finance

    i’m still not sure i understand the sense of “rent” from Matteo’s talk – in marx my weak understanding is that this manifests as surplus value of say minerals or agriculture that is not redistributed but stays with the landholder.
    for instance here’s a nice recap
    http://www.isg-fi.org.uk/spip.php?article136

    that said, i had not thought that matteo suggested the creation of data was outstripping the computing resources to maintain it? not sure how that’s possible, since at base it takes a digital device to generate and hold data. so as long as it exists, it’s held; so it can’t exceed computing capacity. But i may have missed something there. As i recall there was something again during the panel discussion about computing capacity but i’ve lost the question now. durn.

    It seems the question is more will this contribution of personal data to social/public spaces form a new kind of economy or be absorbed into existing captial exchagnes – i think – which i think means how will capitalism find a way to make money from facebook and twitter, or will something else happen. but i fear that’s a gross oversimplifcation of the points.

    oh, and free your data is very much tim berners-lee’s idea
    and the notion of privacy being fleeting and to have policy instead to handle what to do with it is Danny Weitzner’s.
    my main point i think was the tool or the model can limit what we perceive. Right now we see search as about a small text box with documents that match text strings. THere are other ways to think about exploring information than keyword search – like exploring where something is in relation to something else, just for one. By freeing DATA not just documents, we’ll be able to build more of these kinds of tools to see new universes of knowledge building possibilities.

    thank you again for your kind review
    mc
    http://bit.ly/bxn62Y


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