Information Politics on the Web

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Information Politics on the Web. Richard Rogers. MIT Press 2004



On November 1 The American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T) awarded Richard Rogers 'Information Politics on the Web' (MIT Press, 2004) as the `Best Information Science Book of the Year'. Richard Rogers is Director of, an Amsterdam-based foundation dedicated to creating and hosting political tools on the Web, and Assistant Professor in Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam.

Excerpt: Does the information on the Web offer many alternative accounts of reality, or does it subtly align with an official version? In 'Information Politics on the Web, Richard Rogers identifies the cultures, techniques, and devices that rank and recommend information on the Web, analyzing not only the political content of Web sites but the politics built into the Web's infrastructure. Addressing the larger question of what the Web is for, Rogers argues that the Web is still the best arena for unsettling the official and challenging the familiar.


"Without the ability to examine the underlying assumptions search companies use to produce their results, end-users are left with no choice but to accept that the results returned for a search for, say, "Medicare" are the most authoritative and most reliable -- in other words, the best possible. But who decides what the "best" should look like in this case? As Google Hacks (Dornfest, Bausch, & Calishain, 2006) suggests, the "best" result set often favors the most popular, the most linked, and the most "timely" sites. However, as Hindman and his coauthors (Hindman, Tsioutsiouliklis, & Johnson, 2003) note, this seemingly reasonable choice for defining "authority" online has vast political consequences, as it restricts the breadth and depth of the most controversial issues. Do a search for "global warming" on Google, for example, and the first link that appears is the EPA Global Warming site. The second link is, a site created by the "Cooler Heads Coalition" that claims global warming "doomsayers" are perpetuating myths and generally freaking out about nothing.

Richard Rogers' Information Politics on the Web tackles such issues directly. Calling his work an "expose on the politics of information devices on the Web" (1), Rogers, Head of New Media at the University of Amsterdam and Director of the Foundation, works from the simple and seldomly interrogated premise that information on the Web competes for individual attention, especially since many individuals use search engines as their primary mode of navigating the Web. He distinguishes two forms of information politics at play online: front-end, which governmental and private organizations practice through certain restrictions they place on the type of dialogue that individuals can engage in on their Web sites; and back-end, which occurs mainly in the seemingly impenetrable space of search engine algorithms and shady payola deals where sites receive prominent rankings by paying search engines producers." (