We Need a Black Google

Alana Semuels, Los Angeles Times, August 15, 2008

Is Google too white? No, we’re not talking about the white home page that’s so bright it motivates some people to change its appearance to save energy. We’re wondering if it is too white, as in Caucasian, because so many white people use Google that it returns results that alienate the rest of the population.

Johnny C. Taylor thinks so. In April he launched RushmoreDrive, a search engine that returns results more targeted at the black community (it’s named after the North Carolina street where its offices are).

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By way of example, he said that a black person searching for “whitney,” for instance, probably wouldn’t be looking for the Whitney Museum of Art, which comes up first on Google, or Whitney Bank, which comes up second. Instead, Taylor said, the searcher would likely be looking for Whitney Houston, who doesn’t come up in Google until No. 4. That’s why a search for “Whitney” on RushmoreDrive, which is part of Barry Diller’s IAC/InterActiveCorp conglomerate, turns up the vocalist as its first result.

How does a website know what black people want? RushmoreDrive did a whole lot of research, watching where Web surfers who lived in certain areas with large black populations, such as Atlanta, were going online. The site’s creators made note of what black users were clicking on and developed an algorithm that gives “black” links more weight. A search for “diabetes,” for example, shows the American Diabetes Assn. as the first result on both Google and RushmoreDrive. But RushmoreDrive shows “statistics about African-Americans and Diabetes” as its second result and a link to the diabetes section on blackhealthcare.com as its fifth.

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Search engines return results based on pages that they crawl through, but they can’t crawl through every page on the Internet. RushmoreDrive also digs deeper into pages it thinks black people might visit more, such as soul food site chitterlings.com, Taylor said.

The search engine has already picked up advertisers such as Coca-Cola and General Motors and had nearly 800,000 unique visitors in June. Taylor says RushmoreDrive is a new kind of search engine that he says focuses on “identity search.” In other words, it guesses what people are looking for based on the group they identify with.

Since search engines learn from what people are clicking on, RushmoreDrive had a small problem immediately after its launch: So many white members of the media were visiting the site that the results became skewed and turned up more “white” results, Taylor said. That’s why the company is embarking on a big publicity campaign now, making appearances on the Tavis Smiley and Steve Harvey shows and sponsoring a 10-city gospel tour featuring Regina Belle.

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