Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Googlewhacking it - Web 2

I visited the site The goal is to find enter two words (without using quotes) into the Google search engine and have there be a single result. When one is found, the whack is posted to a list with the person’s self-reported name and a comment. Taking a look at the list, I tried a few of the phrases. Some of them worked great, like they were supposed to. Others turned out to have multiple hits, which may be a result of the passage of time and the dynamism of the Internet. Some, however, did not appear as real words, and in these instances, I can only assume the users hacked the system. Then I tried typing in a few of my own, only to find that there were hundreds, or even thousands, of hits. Eventually I would find a good word with only a few thousand hits on it alone, and then I would try adding words to it until I found just the right one. Working off of what other people found successful was a big help. In the end, I came up with two whacks – jillionaire phrenology and frowns sextuplication. Now I’m a Googlewhacker too! I also discovered later that some Googlewhackers use the FAQ portion of their submission to communicate with other Googlewhackers. Sometimes these exchanges would go on for several posts before dying out. Certain Googlewhackers would even gain prestige because of their advanced skill and practice at Googlewhacking. They in particular would become interlocutors because other users felt a familiarity with them. I used my literacy in the written English language as well as my computer and Internet literacies. If ‘literacy’ is taken to mean ‘being literate’ in the sense of being well-read, then that was useful as well, since it gave me a large and useful vocabulary on which to draw. Looking at the website, I had to ‘decode’ it, too. I had to understand how to navigate it, and then what each column meant. Then taking that information, I could use it to improve my own searches. Challenges included learning what sorts of words worked best and how to manipulate them – adding prefixes/suffixes/adjectival endings, etc. Also, stopping. Googlewhacking is difficult, but addictive. You just have to find that perfect combination. Understanding the idea and figuring out the actual manipulation of the website, however, were easy. In many ways, the Googlewhack website reminded me of Gee’s theory of affinity spaces. First off, there’s a common goal; all Googlewhackers are trying to find authentic Googlewhacks and post them for others to see. People of all levels are encouraged to participate, and there are veteran Googlewhackers as well as newbies. The content of the website is transformed by the interactional organization of its members. Relationships and communication between Googlewhackers affects the comments that will be posted. Relationships between Goglewhackers and the program will affect what whacks are posted – specifically, whether they are legitimate or hacks. Both individual and shared knowledge is encouraged here. Individuals come with their own vocabularies, associations, and Google knowledge. Once Googlewhacks are discovered, some of this knowledge is shared with other visitors to the website, and potential Googlewhackers can use it to improve. Dispersed knowledge is also important since a widely varied base (scientific, artistic, technological, etc.) is useful for discovering Googlewhacks. The more obscure knowledge one possesses, the easier it will be to find a Googlewhack. Tacit knowledge is key; the first Googlewhack is the hardest to find, but soon one begins to understand the Google search system better and Googlewhacks become easier. Finally, leadership is porous. No one, not even administrators, has absolute power. Leadership depends on skill – whether it be in Googlewhacking, hacking, or witty commentary. Leadership is dynamic, constantly changing as certain people enter or drop out of the active community. Googlewhacking does not perfectly fit the definition of an affinity space, but it shares many of the characteristics and demonstrates a sort of online community that is focused on manipulating and controlling the common tools of its environment.

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