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Search as Research

Mapping Localisation and ‘Issue Maturity’ with Search Engines

T. de Keijser and F. N. van der Vlist (alphabetical)

We report on whether and in what way Google's device-specific definition of the ‘local’ may be used to perform cross-country and comparative media analysis with local domains of Google. We suggest to think of search engines in a framework of actor-network-theory which allows us to focus on the negotiability of the spaces they demarcate, and how both human and non-human actors operate side by side to achieve this. Search as research is a valuable research practice to look at contested issue spaces, such as the issue of euthanasia in Web search spheres. We wondered to what extent different socio-cultural and legal attitudes towards euthanasia are apparent in the types of sources and actors that show up in the search results for each of the selected local Google domains, and how far these different source types or actors are removed from the ‘top of the Web’. Can we use these measures to understand the extent to which that issue has matured? To operationalise our research questions, we first undertook a qualitative content analysis to understand local discourse and to be able to identify patterns and anomolies across countries. From there, we then did cross-country comparisons of thee local issue spaces and found that the current state of the debates are mostly about the legislative dimensions, ethical dimensions, and informative, ‘neutral’ resources such as studies and reference sources. Overall, we identified legislative, ethical and oppositional concerns as the most frequent categories, but even though the same categories show up for each of the local domains in our source set, they do not necessarily refer to the same sources. Finally, we conclude that the ‘local’ is in fact a negotiated space between the users, through Google's algorithms, and that in order to determine issue ‘maturity’ we would need to study multiple social snapshots or ‘present states’ of the ‘movements’ that characterise the social over time.

Internet research; digital methods; search engine studies; query design; issue maturity; Google Search; euthanasia

Kind Assignment; Report
Author T. de Keijser; F. N. van der Vlist
Instructor A. Ben-David; E. K. Borra; B. Rieder; R. A. Rogers
Publication Date 2013, November 22
Institution University of Amsterdam

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