Google’s SearchWiki Goes Live

Sometime in the last couple of minutes, Google turned on some new UI in search results:

Example SearchWiki UI

Example SearchWiki UI

This is, apparently, a new way for users to personalize Google search results:

“SearchWiki allows you to reorder, remove or add notes to specific web search results so that the next time you do the same search, you’ll see the customized result set that you prefer.”

TechCrunch (Mr. Arrington in particular), has the details on this new feature. Seriously, does anyone at TechCrunch even sleep?

Your Government: Powered by Google

Department Of Homeland Security LogoIn a recent short story, Cory Doctorow imagined a world in which Google powers the US border and immigration services. That world conjured up a new term: Scroogled. As nightmarish as the prospect of any fictitious world that can be conjured up by a bastardized compound of the words “Google”, “scrutinized”, “screwed”, it’s not quite as bad as the reality I came across over the last two weeks.

I recently realized I needed to fill out some paperwork to maintain my US permanent resident card. I found the form online, filled it out, and then realized I might actually need to still be in the US in order to submit the form. Something about the US government wanting my bodily fluids I think, and not in a good way.

I was pretty sure the US government already had every scrap of biometrics on me that it could possibly ever need, but rather than blindly submitting the form, I went to the US consulate in Vancouver to see if I could get a definitive answer. Except, apparently, customer service isn’t what a consulate provides, even if you are a legal US resident. The guards at the consulate gave me a 1-900 number to call for information.

Wait…the US government uses 1-900 numbers? Aren’t those those reserved for televangelists and phone sex lines?

Apparently not. For the low-low price of $1.89 a minute, the US government will answer your questions about the absurdly complicated world they created. Hooray! It’s like being stuck in the movie Brazil, but without a British accent to make those whole experience appear polite. But the results were just as comical:

Me: Hi, I’m trying to find out if I need to be in the US to file my I-131? Does that apply if I’ve already got a permanent resident card?

Customs: An I-131? What is that?

Me: It’s a re-entry permit.

Customs: Oh, sorry – we only handle visas on this phone number…

Me: I guess it’s a type of visa…it lets me get back into the country.

Customs: …yeah, we don’t handle that type of visa at this number. Have you tried the US consulate?

Me: Yes. They gave me your number.

Customs: Hmm…well, you know what you might try? Why don’t you Google it?

Google it? Two bucks a minute to be told the answer is on the Internet? What. The. Hell.

At least the guy gave me two other phone numbers to call – one at Vancouver Airport, and the other at the Niagara Falls border crossing. No one picked up the phone at Vancouver Airport, but at the Niagara Falls crossing, I had an eerily familiar experience:

Me: <same as above>

Customs: Hmm, I don’t really know about the I-131.

Me: Well, I’ve tried the US consulate, they gave me a number, and the guy there gave me your number. Any other ideas where I can find out about this I-131?

Customs: Well, why don’t you try the Interne–

Me: <click>

Last month, The Atlantic posed the question: is Google making us stupid? I think we have our answer. Rather than turning the US into a pseudo surveillance state as Cory Doctorow envisioned, perhaps the reality is worse: a government that is so inefficient and ill-informed that it relies on a search engine to provide its citizens with access to their own government.

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