Relational power of ‘Ecosystem’ within Search engine: adopting the views of capitalism


                                                      ‘Keyword searches for queries.Screenshot by Ye, all rights reserved.


Life revolves around the everyday cognitive contacts with new people and new object which construct experience in exploring new ideas. From an infant to an adult, individuals are constantly questioning ‘who, what, when, and how’ to interpret meanings and as a way of building a relationship with the world living in. The aspiration of discovering the unknown and unleashing curiosity of the past, present, and future queries are indeed within human natures. The advent of search engine then fulfills the needs for information seeking; provides access to adapt, pursue, and to understand the uncertainties. The development of technology emerges possibilities while heralding the era of digital civilization encompassing the economic and political, social changes. The business practice involved in the design of search engines solidifies in the light of modern capitalism; given connotations to value production of user-generated content as an advertisement. Despite the symbiosis of providers and users, the imbalanced distribution of benefits makes it difficult to achieve dynamic equilibrium. Users are at a disadvantage relative to the website providers, and predominately; in a sense that the search engines can manipulate both. The relationship amongst them three mimics the ecosystem by which one influence the less powerful one. The capitalist ideology in the societal context empowers search engines to grow its economy has derived the critique of monopolistic dataveillance. The power of the search engines is therefore compatible yet hegemonic to extend its transformative effects on network users and website providers.

The rise of Search Engines  

The search engine as an information retrieval system has ingrained in surfing experience; influencing the way individuals interacts with the social world. Before the invention of search engines in the eighteenth century, the absence of technical intervention was the greatest impediment to the mobility of data collection and flexibility of information control. Under the circumstances, institution authorities such as British and United States government were motived to called upon an automatic machine in the replacement of manual labor (Halavais, 2013,p.11). Henceforth, the historical chapter of search engines unfolded from its inception in 1990(Walks,2017). Van Couvering(2008) captured the evolutionary process of search engines in three chronological periods.(as cited in Mager, 2012)The first period laid the foundations of web indexing by establishing a file system; adopting the directory structure mostly in the use of computing(1994-1997). Independent portals like Yahoo! emerged and implemented the vertical integration strategy to seize audience segmentation in the second period of technology progress(1997–2001).Content channels developed within portals manifested early signs of content commercialization by generating sponsorship. The introduction of Google’s PageRank algorithm in 1998 gave the ‘hand-indexing’ techniques that Yahoo endorsed a new perspective(Matteo, 2009, p.160 ). PageRank evaluates the value of a webpage according to the number and quality of incoming links, similar to the academic citation system. It  is aligned with indexing techniques to retrieve the best possible results for a query based on database files. Therefore in the third period, search company like Google was able to branch out its business by conducting profit earning activities such as pay-per-links advertising besides being an apparatus of data management.



“Websites interlinking to illustrate PageRank.” by Tomwsulcer is marked with CC0 1.0


Living in Google Environment

The affordances of PageRank enables the development of a more profit-oriented system like Adwords, which paid advertisements are displayed on the top of the sponsored search results with reference to the keyword bade. According to Google’s annual report in 2008, revenue generated from this platform alone composed 99% of its overall revenue. (Matteo, 2009, p.160) The CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, was candid with this transformation that to think google “first as an advertising system”(Roehle, 2009). The shift from information needs to consumption needs, thus have given rise to the attention economy of Google. This new business model needs to operate on web traffic to target what Magder(2012) determined to be the ‘right audience’. Website providers then intend to increase the visibility of its sites relevant to the realization of profit by employing the strategies of search engine optimization (p,776). In this way, users are more likely to find the contents that are catered for their needs and wants. Website providers and users, together have converged on the obligatory passage point where Google has contrived to its own benefits. (Roehle, 2009). Whether intentionally or inadvertently, Google has satisfied the goal of both parties; facilitated a mutual agreement upon the exchange. As a result, it leads to more ‘google dedicated’ searches in preference to the library or other media searches.

From Citizen to Netizen

Google’s leadership position is further consolidated by gaining creditworthiness and reliance from users, fed by its algorithms and user data accordingly. By this means, the user’s dynamic contents are under the scrutiny of Google, which, in turn, involving forms of government intervention. It plays the role of gatekeeping the input and output flow of the information with regards to the regimen and often corresponds to specific political viewpoints(Kulathuramaiyer,2006). Users’ online experience is base on what Wakefield (2006)described to be a ‘censored version of Web search’ when necessary (as cited in Kulathuramaiyer, 2006). Governmental regulations have stressed power on google operation that renders it to be the monopoly of the marketplace. In other words, Google is capable of shaping an individual’s perception, opinions, and understandings of the world. 

  “warns against behavioral targeting”, by Jack Myers and  Mark Ghuneim, Standard YouTube License

In addition, when Google leverages on its large reserves of user data across different integrated applications to conduct a statistical evaluation and behavioural targeting; rises issues of information privacy and concerns of intellectual property(Roehle,2009). Data collection structures digital media economics by taking advantages of user inputs for marketing aims. Google does not produce contents itself, but rather it transfers the original work, namely, the user-generated content for means of reproduction. Thoughts, activities, and lived experience of users are, therefore, transformed and increasingly materialized as a commodity in exchange for economic value. This part of surplus-value is considered to be the parasitic income corresponding to the concept of rent obtained from an asset (Jarrett,2014). Jarrett argues that individual could break away from self-actualization and instead are bind to the the ‘database of intention’(2014). Google drives the users to be accustomed to the practice of its data mining and consequently, attempts to normalize the exploitation of intellectual energies. 

Rentier in the digital economy

As a contemporary artefact, a pure purveyor and rentier of common intellect though the absence of creativity and originality, it shoves Google to the top of the ‘food chain’ seizing the competitive advantages in the search engines industry. It proliferates its growth by dominating the advertising marketplace and acting upon the alienation of online activities that fed back to the cycle of adverting metrics.The power of Google made it adequate for blurring the boundaries of reproduction and exploitation of content; taken the privation of user’s intangible asset for granted. ‘Free service’ has become a symbolic presentation of Google’s, which has transformed it into the parasite of advertising practice and user data monetization; built on its PageRank algorithm. It underlines the capitalist spirit embedded in Google as it tends to deprive the autonomy of users without fiscal compensation. Search engines act upon the user’s tolerance to exploit content appeals to need to reconsider the roles of both parties. Think search engine as the ‘consumer’ and users as the ‘producer’ in reserve of traditional roles of users (the consumer) and search engine (the provider). It imitates the relational net between the ‘prey’ and the ‘predators’ within the ecosystem to provide indications of its significance and power. 

Meanwhile, it is, however, challenged by forms of governmental power and struggled to seek a balance between website providers and users within the network space. Thereby, places users at a disadvantaged state-controlled and limited to the producer of dead labor of capital for advertising data (Jarrett,2014). Fortunately, Google evolves with the progress of economic and socio-political transformations to bring about individual awareness with increased sensitivity of the virtual world besides commercial purposes. Whether modern capitalism inherent in society has enlightened Google, or it is the capitalist spirit initially rooted in the company operation. Overall Google and googling have infiltrated into everyday lives and have developed to be the head of the web search. 




Reference List

Halavais, A. (2013). The engines. In Search engine society (pp. 5–31). Cambridge, UK ; Malden, MA: Polity

Jarrett, K. (2014). A database of intention. In Society of the query reader: Reflections on web search (pp. 16–29). Amsterdam:  Institute of networked cultures.

Kulathuramaiyer, N. (2006). Restricting the View and Connecting the Dots – Dangers of a Web Search Engine Monopoly.Retrieved from

Mager, Astrid. “ALGORITHMIC IDEOLOGY: How Capitalist Society Shapes Search Engines.” Information, communication &   society 15.5 (2012): 769–787. Web

n.d. (2009, Nov. 11).Behavioral Targeting: Ads That Track Your Web Activity.[Video file]. Retrieved from

Pasquinelli, Matteo. “The algorithm PageRank of Google: diagram of cognitive capitalism and rentier of general intellect.” Sociologia del lavoro 115 (2009): 153–166. Web

Roehle, T. (2009). Dissecting the Gatekeepers – Relational Perspectives on the Power of Search Engines. Retrieved from