Saturday, June 10, 2006

Google v. Google China

This afternoon, I was doing the laundry and reading Adbusters' "The Good, the Bad and the Google." From the article:

Google announced that the new Chinese version of its site, Google.cn, would comply with Beijing policy by removing politically sensitive websites from search results. . . . In the months since the launch of Google.cn, Adbusters has been intermittently returning to the site to test out a few of China's most troublesome bugaboos. Filtering is usually obvious. A text search for "Taiwan Independence" was met with about 210,000 results in mid-March; on Google.com, the results numbered over 12,000,000. "Free Tibet" scored 19,600,000 on Google.com, but a paltry 170,000 on Google.cn.

I thought it would be interesting to see how my every day Google searches would be different if I used Google China, so I wrote a Greasemonkey user script to find out. If you install the script, you can find out too.

First, what is Greasemonkey?

Greasemonkey is a Firefox extension that allows you to write scripts that alter the web pages you visit. You can use it to make a web site more readable or more usable. You can fix rendering bugs that the site owner can't be bothered to fix themselves. You can alter pages so they work better with assistive technologies that speak a web page out loud or convert it to Braille. You can even automatically retrieve data from other sites to make two sites more interconnected.

In the case of my script, when the user searches with Google, the script performs the same search with Google China; the script then inserts the number of results from Google China beside the number of results from Google.

For example, if you search Google for "Falun Gong," you'll see the following text on the result page:

Results 1 - 10 of about 5,610,000 for Falun Gong. (0.23 seconds)

With the user script installed, you'll see this text instead:

Results 1 - 10 of about 5,610,000 for Falun Gong. (0.23 seconds) In Google China, about 86,000.

(As you can see, the Falun Gong is not popular with Google China.) As a bonus, if you click on the "In Google China, about 86,000," a div will appear with the first result from the Google China search, so you can compare with the first result from the Google search.

Thus far, I haven't seen much difference. But then, I don't often Google topics that might offend China's censors. However, I'd encourage anyone who's curious about how Google's searches differ from Google China's to 1) install Firefox, 2) install Greasemonkey and 3) install the Google China user script to find out.

If you do, tell me if you have any problems using it.