GOVCOMORG FOUNDATION Google and the politics of tabs

The demise of the directory

The Demise of the Directory: Web librarian work removed in Google

Google and the politics of tabs is the history of Google seen through its interface from 1998 until late 2007. It makes use of all the available Google front-pages in the Internet Archive. Google and the politics of tabs chronicles the subtle changes to the Google front-page real estate, showing which services have risen to front-page tab status the others that have been relegated to the 'more' and 'even more' buttons. It tells the story of the demise of the directory, and how the back-end algorithm has taken over the organization of Web information at the expense of the human editors and the librarians.

Quicktime movie, 5'00", Amsterdam, 2008

Google and the Politics of Tabs.

Movie voice-over.

This is the history of Google as seen through its Interface. From the beginning, sometime in November 1998 all the way up until late 2007. These are screen shots of Google Interface taken from the Wayback Machine of the Internet Archive. The history of the Google is important. For some people, Google is the Internet. And for many, it's the first point of access. And Google, as the face of the Internet, has remained virtually the same over the past ten years. But there have been some subtle changes to the Interface. So let's go back and look at this in a little bit more detail. You see initially Google with a standard Web search button and its intriguing "I'm feeling lucky buttonā" have been your only options. Then the Directory gets introduced with some front page fanfare. It's the Open Directory Project,, that Google's built an engine on top of. Then come the Tabs on top of the Search box with the Web search being privileged at the far left, followed by Images, Groups (that's searching Usenet), and the Directory makes it to the front page. News, the Google news service, the news aggregator was next. Froogle is introduced; that was that cost comparison e-commerce service. And that stayed on the front page for a while, then was dropped. Followed by Local, which later became Google Maps. You can see that the services are becoming more and more present; there are now five or six at the top bar. Then they add a "More" button. What we're interested in is which services remain on the front page and which get relegated to "More" or "Even More." But let's look at this in some more detail. Let's look at the fate of the Directory over time. It's a story of the demise of the librarian, of the demise of the human editors of the Web, and the rise of the back end, of the algorithm taking over from the editors. Now you see that it's introduced with great fanfare in 2000. The Web is organized by human editors. It remains on the front page. It achieves the Tabs status that we talked about previously. Fourth Tab here. And keeps its place on the front page even as other services are introduced. However, in 2004 something happened: It got placed under the "More" button. You had to click "More" to find the Directory. And in 2006, if you clicked "More," the Directory wasn't there; you had to click "Even More" and there you would find the Directory. As it loses its standing, it also loses recognition. Lots of people don't really remember that there is a Directory just like other services that have left the front page real estate. Also of interest are the services that climb from being "Even More" to "More" and all the way to the front page. But with the Directory, it's a sadder story. As the interface of Google moves upper left, and you click "More," you see that there's no Directory any longer. And you also see that there is no "Even More." So nowadays you have to search Google for its Directory to find the Google Directory.

The Demise of the Directory: Web librarian work removed in Google is the accompanying information graphic in the form of a narrative timeline. Design by Kim de Groot.




Research by Richard Rogers, Laura van der Vlies, Kim de Groot, Esther Weltevrede, Erik Borra and the Digital Methods Initiative, Amsterdam. A Jubilee Production by Crooked Line, Amsterdam.