What is Wrong with Goodreads and Wikipedia?

…and why are they promoting Zane’s tax liability rather than her literary accomplishments?

“The Web is critical not merely to the digital revolution but to our continued prosperity—and even our liberty. Like democracy itself, it needs defending…”
—Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, Long Live the Web (Scientific American, December 2010)

Given the current corporate control over the World Wide Web, we don’t need to defend it we need to be protected from it.  The world wide web has taken another turn for the worse, in fact it has gotten down right nasty.

Recently, I ran a Google search on a one of AALBC.com’s best-selling authors, Zane.  It was very easy (too easy) to discover that Zane has been accused of owing local and federal tax authorities hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes.

zane-headlines

snapshot of page #1 of Google search results for query, “zane author” on February 6th, 2014

One can argue that this is information is “news” and deserves to be thrust high on the 1st page of the search results.  I’m not one who’d make that argument.  However, I understand those who suggest Google is just giving people what they want to see.

When I reviewed Google’s top three search results, #1 Wikipedia, #2 Goodread and #3 Goodreads, I found that Zane’s tax liability was also prominently mentioned on those sites too!

zane-google

It is worth pointing out here that Google ranks, Wikipedia and Amazon (who also owns Goodreads and Shelfari), ahead of Zane’s official website, Erotica Noir.  AALBC.com, which includes far more information about Zane than Wikipedia, is on the 2nd page of results.  The adverse impact on other independent websites, and those who would have visited those sites has been catastrophic.

#1 — Wikipediazane-wikipedia

Why on Earth would Wikipedia choose to include, “In 2014, she was cited by Comptroller of Maryland Peter Franchot as one of Maryland’s top tax cheats, owing the state $340,833.58,” in an encyclopedic reference of Zane?

Not only is this so called citation inappropriate, the use of the phase “tax cheats” is rude, insulting and reads more like copy from the National Inquirer, rather than an encyclopedia.

Why does Google consistently rank Wikipedia so high in it’s search results, particularly when there are so many other sites that have better information on any given topic covered by Wikipedia?  I noticed a year ago how both Amazon and Google were using Wikipedia’s content for commercial purposes.  That could provide one explanation.

#2 & #3 — Goodreadszane-goodreads

Similarly, Goodreads shares the following, “Roberts topped the list of tax cheats in the state of Maryland, a list released by Comptroller Peter Franchot in January 2014. She owes the state of Maryland about $340,000 in back taxes.”  That statement represents 23% of everything Goodreads has to say about Zane.

Did Goodreads not believe it worthy to mention Zane’s numerous and prodigious accomplishments?  Did they think Zane’s unresolved tax liability was more important than her making the New York Times best sellers list 26 times (at least), her philanthropic efforts, her work as a publisher, screenwriter and TV producer?

Perhaps it is because Zane is not a “Goodreads Author,” and Amazon wants her to join.

I’m also not a fan of Google’s current trend to return multiple pages from the same domain in a search result.  These search results are usually Google’s own properties (books.google.com) or Amazon.com’s.  These results are not just redundant, they crowd out other, often better, results—leaving those sites virtually undiscoverable through search.

This is Much More Than About Zane

Zane is one of the most popular writers today.  However what we learn about her on Wikipedia and Goodreads does not reveal this fact.  Indeed, what those sites are doing, fully supported by Google, is besmirching her reputation.

At least the newspapers, spreading this scandalous story about Zane, put the names of the authors next to their stories.  With Wikipedia and Goodreads there is no accountability, no ownership and no responsibility.

I first started to notice that Google was serving up scandalous information about authors, highest in the search results, a few years ago and wrote about it in 2011.

The manner in which Google controls the web has not escaped regulators in other countries (read the New York Times article by Claire Cain Miller and Mark Scott Feb. 5, 2014, Google Settles Its European Antitrust Case; Critics Remain).  Reaction U.S. government officials, sadly, has been virtually nonexistent.

I’ve been active online before the world wide web existed.  I have been building websites since the web became a commercial entity about 20 years ago.  This website, AALBC.com was started in October of 1997 almost 17 years ago.  I have also been a keen observer of Google since it was invented.  All of this experience, and data collected along the way, informs my opinions today.

Inspired by the freedom the Web offered, the ability to uplift and help share the stories of my diverse culture and people, and the ability to monetize those efforts led me to make AALBC.com my livelihood.

Sites like Google, Amazon and so many other initially served to complement my efforts.  But those days have been over for sometime.  A few years ago, an independent website with good content could expect to be discovered through a search engine query.  Today one has to pay for a sponsored search result in order to be found with the same ease as they would have been just a few years ago.  The quality of your content is not nearly as important as the depth of your pockets.  When Google first started it was much more egalitarian.

As a result, fewer new sites are launching.  If they do launch they languish unable to generate traffic.  Others try to establish a platform on social media, but that simply results in the social media platform being enriched, not the folks creating the content.

Before Google, or even an search engine, was on the web, sites were discovered through the efforts of people.  People shared information with others by word of mouth, through email and even a link on their website.

Today Google will have you believe you can hurt your site’s ranking in search results by linking to a lower quality site.  This actually discourages some webmasters from linking to other websites!  Meanwhile, rich social media sites have brilliantly brainwashed many of us to provide free advertising my making it a cliche to say, “Follow me on Facebook and Like me on Twitter,” often to the exclusion of their own websites.

If you want the web to be run by Google, Amazon and the hand full or other corporations that control the web, then do nothing.  If it does not matter to you that one of our most popular authors are disparaged, don’t lift a finger.

If anything I’ve written resonates please share this article.  You most likely did not discover it via a Google search or a link from a corporate website.  You found it because I (Troy Johnson) or someone else shared it with you.

The web needs defending more today than ever before.  No corporation will do this for us.  We must defend the web, our “prosperity—and even our liberty.”   Please share the article: (here is the link: http://aalbc.it/goodreadsfail).

You may also read additional commentary about this article here.

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About Troy

Troy D. Johnson is the President, founder and webmaster of AALBC.com, LLC (The African American Literature Book Club). Launched in March of 1998, AALBC.com has grown to become the largest and most frequently visited website dedicated to books and films by and about people of African descent.
This entry was posted in 2014, AALBC.com News, Authors You Should Know, books, Troy's Rants and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.
  • http://aalbc.com Troy Johnson

    A couple of people have asked me why don’t I get on the Washington Post (http://aalbc.it/wpzanetax) for bringing up Zane’s Tax issues. The Post’s motivation is plain; they are using scandal to sell newspapers. The additional issue of hurting Zane at worse was a goal, at best was of no concern.

    Wikipedia and Goodread motivations are not as plain.

    Wikipedia asserts itself as an egalitarian, open, free, encyclopedia of the people.
    While Wikipedia constantly demonstrates that it is not, Google has elevated Wikipedia above all other sources, while using Wikipedia’s content for its book pages.

    The only rational explanation for Badreads behavior is malice. I’m all ears if someone can provide and alternative explanation. Again Google have also elevated this sites.

  • http://aalbc.com Troy Johnson

    Since I posted this article some was moved to remove the Tax information from Badreads. However when I went to remove the information from Wikipedia I was floored by what I saw: http://aalbc.it/wikifail2 Someone fought to have the tax information removed, before I even noticed it was there.