The segregated web

I’m not sure what I think about the Barry Diller/IAC announcement of a black-oriented search engine and content site, Rushmore Drive. I get the content part, of course. I also understand specialized search engines based on need or interest — jobs v. homes v. medicine, and so on. But isn’t there a danger in creating a search engine segregated along racial lines? Does it create more separation? Does it create a new sort of echo chamber? Does it limit the world reached by the search? I would never want to use a search engine aimed at middle-aged, suburban white guys like me; I want the world. And how do they know what is black-oriented content? It almost smacks of reverse red-lining, possibly pandering: How can you tell that a given article would be of more interest to an African-American than others and who’s to say that all African-Americans would look at it the same way? Perhaps I need to hear the problem stated clearly before I can judge this as a solution.

It has been said that tools like blogging and Facebook are disproportionately white; is that the problem? Is the solution, then, a search engine that gives them more traffic? Well, perhaps. But it’s a rather indirect one; there are other ways to encourage more creation and send them more audience.

Or is the problem search itself and an inability to find some content? I did a search on teen pregnancy because I recalled a recent survey saying that the incidence is much higher in the African-American community, and on Rushmore Drive, the fourth and fifth results are about just that. Not so on Google, though adding “African-American” to the search query comes up with very good results.

I would regret seeing the open prairie of the web marred with fences. On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog or a cat, black or white, man or woman, young or old, unless you chose to say so and unless it’s relevant. I would have hoped that we could use this vast openness to break down some of these separations, not build them back up.