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Googlocalisation - Google, globalisation and localisation

You've all heard of 'globalisation' and 'localisation', and you've probably also heard of 'glocalisation'. It seems to have become something of a buzzword over the last couple of years, and used with abandon by politicians wishing to sound as if they are part of the paradigm shift that goes forward by synergising the global knowledge economy and the local cultural knowledge base in a win-win situation. It's an open door proactive repositioning of the e-, i- and bs-economy in a performance-based total quality management that vectors a short and long-term reward-oriented mindset.

OK, enough of the BS ;-) Actually, the first time I heard of 'glocalisation' was in a very good book by Miller & Slater - The Ethnography of the Internet - back in 2000. They were one of the first to argue convincingly against the 'virtual' vs. 'real' world ideas that were all the rage at the time - they refused to "treat the Internet independently of its embeddedness" (2000:8), and demonstrated how people in Trinidad used the internet in ways that related directly to their Trini culture. It's a good book, but I did think that sometimes they over-emphasised the local thing without acknowledging the international influences that were carried by the internet too.

So what the #@*! is Googlocalisation? Well, I just made that up for the title, but it's because I noticed that I get different results in Google in the two browsers I use - one has the cookies for Google enabled, and the other one doesn't; this means that on one I get the results from google.com.my, and the other returns results from google.com.

I've done some screenshots, but I don't think you'll be able to read them properly. Out of the first ten results (searching 'tropical gardening', for my new blog, only three are the same:


• First on the 'international' (American?) Google site, third on the Malaysian site: Tropical Plants - GardenWeb
• Fourth on the 'international' Google site, ninth on the Malaysian site: Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden
• Eighth on the 'international' Google site, tenth on the Malaysian site: Tropical Punch - Gardening with Tropical Plants
Google Malaysia results
• The top two results on .com.my are definitely Malaysia related: Tourism Penang, and something on Portal Akademi Sains Malaysia

It's well known that Google cooperates with national governments (e.g. China) to enable the censorship of the web, and what we have here is one facet of that - in order to make the results 'more relevant' to the user, there is clearly a heavier weighting for locally produced content. The local influence can be political or commercial - and of course it's the local elites, rather than the local 'people', that wield this influence. The need to tailor results slightly is understandable, otherwise the whole world would be getting results that are influenced by the interests of the biggest single group of internet users - in North America. In addition, if you enable the cookies, Google tracks what you normally search for and tailors results (and ads) according to this personal profile you build up over time. There is a bit of dilemma though - the great thing about the web is that we can access information from all over, and come across new ideas and things we would otherwise never think of; but if the search results are going to cluster more and more around your national location, and personal history, doesn't that mean you will get less likely to see something outside of your usual habits?

Just as a simple example: imagine a school kid doing a project on tropical gardening, and s/he googles it - the first thing that comes up is Malaysian related and s/he uses that. But what about if the non-Malaysian site has a different perspective on it? Would the child have missed an opportunity to gain a perspective on his/her own world - one that is needed to develop the mind beyond the box we are handed as members of our culture?

OK, you're going to say that the kid just has to look further than the first two links, and take a bit of initiative. True. But note that only three out of the first ten were the same in this simple experiment, and how many of you ever look beyond the first page of Google results, eh?

Maybe the solution would be to allow people to select whichever they want - I can do this with my two browsers, but even then my location will be influencing the results. It would be nice to have an 'internet' option - search there and you get the response from the global internet, uninfluenced by any locality or other influences.

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Toni on :

Hi,

Nice bit of blog work here. I'm not sure if you have realised but you can click to go straight to the Google.com in any browser, it generally gives you that option. The China censorship relates to certain pages which conflict with local laws, such as finding out about Falun Gong and Free Tibet pages. Their are ways around the Chinese restriction on searches, but they can become tedious to do.

The other thing is that the difference between Malaysia Google and Google.com is that the Malaysia one will follow more Malaysian back links and web sites before world wide ones. It will check the links that computers from Malaysia have used and give them a greater weighting than those from say America or India.

Americans are no the largest users of the internet. I believe that title falls to either China or India, it's just that the population of these countries is so large that the percentage of these countries that use it and/or have access to it is small compared to countries that have smaller populations, such as New Zealand and Luxembourg.

julian on :

Hiya, thanks for the comment. I hadn't realised about the link for Google.com.

You're right about the total number of internet users being higher in China (http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm), but I wonder if the content, and activity, online is still more skewed to America?

It's interesting that the links that Malaysians used are given higher weightage.

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