[NetBehaviour] Search term as text

Thomas Garman thomas.garman at gmail.com
Thu Feb 18 05:45:39 CET 2010

Literary Remarks on the Spectral Line Cesium project

Terms searched through Google have structure and meaning and narrative
distilled into at most a few words. We have all learned, since the invention
of the search engine, to write correctly for the search box: too many words,
or the wrong words, return results not of little value. Whether the words
entered into the search box yield the correct results depends on how the
search engine's algorithms rank information. A badly chosen search term
might yield, from the point of view of the algorithms governing the search,
numerous exact hits none of which were the intended target of the search.
The algorithms behind the search are not, however, made explicit. One
approaches the search box with an intuitive sense of what works well and
what does not. "Spectral Line Cesium" is an attempt to engage with this new
sort of writing.

Search terms entered into search engines are documents, texts, in fact,
about which very little (if any) literary theory has has been written. While
they are not necessarily intentionally written for publication, in fact
search terms are published in unique ways. First, content is written into
websites (tags, for example) to increase the likelihood that certain search
terms will attract the attention of searchers. Second, the major search
engine companies (Google, Yahoo, Bing) publish lists of the most commonly or
popularly searched terms. So, while a teenager in Des Moines is not
intending to "publish" a phrase that he or she searches, in actual practice
the fact that millions of people end up searching the exact same
phrases/subjects leads to the terms that led the most people to the
"correct" information is recorded (and content is subsequently developed in
such a way as to conform with what is being searched).

Our usual ideas of what an author is (the paradigm: a single individual
producing an original text on a blank sheet of paper) do not apply to this
kind of writing. Many people acting independently must enter the same terms
(or very nearly the same) for the search term to achieve publication. I
conceive of "Spectral Line Cesium" to be a sort of poetical/rhetorical
object that can only be written by many thousands of people simultaneously.
No individual acting alone could author such a text, but each participant
must write it for it to achieve the intended status of text. It seems to me
that collective texts of this sort have hitherto only been written by


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