Beyond Google’s Reach: Tracking the Global Uprising in Real Time

Cloudline | Blog | Beyond Google’s Reach: Tracking the Global Uprising in Real Time

On Oct. 15, groups of protesters affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement began filing into the branch offices of their banks to close their accounts. Later that day, videos began to show up online of those protesters being arrested. Irate branch managers had called the cops, claiming that these customers were being disruptive, so police began hauling the protesters away for booking.

The spectacle of citizens being arrested for attempting to close out their personal bank accounts made a splash in all of the usual corners of the internet. Except one: Google.

Like the larger Occupy Wall Street movement, which is often referenced online via the Twitter hashtag #OWS, the Oct. 15 protest was organized using #oct15. A search for #oct15 on the day of the protest yielded nothing but garbage results, and my searches as late as a day later yielded similar output. But despite allegations that Google — especially Google News, which still doesn’t have any worthwhile results for #oct15 — is censoring protest-related material, the more straightforward answer to the question of why the world’s largest search engine can’t produce useful results for current events in real time is that it’s simply not designed to.

As I found out on the day of Oct. 15, if you want quality information about events as they unfold in real time, then you can forget about the Google search box. Instead, you have to turn to alternative search engines, and specifically to Topsy, which had links to blog posts, videos, and pictures of the protest on the day of the protest, often mere minutes after the information was posted online. I’ve been a Topsy user for the past six months, and on Oct. 15, when Google searches were turning up garbage, I typed “#oct15″ into the Topsy search box and was able to track events as they happened.

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