EUROPE NEEDS AN OPEN
INDEX OF THE WEB
1. Prof. Dr. Dirk Lewandowski, Hamburg University of Applied Sciences
2. Prof. Dr. Volker Grassmuck, Leuphana University of Lüneburg
3. Dr. Philipp Mayr, GESIS – Leibniz-Institute for the Social Sciences
4. Sebastian Sünkler, Hamburg University of Applied Sciences
5. Agata Królikowski, Leuphana University of Lüneburg
6. Lambert Heller, German National Library of Science and Technology
7. Dr. Wolfgang Sander-Beuermann, SUMA-EV
8. René König, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology
1. one search engine is not enough!
Europe’s digital economy and civil society are virtually dependent on non-European businesses. This is particularly evident with regard to search engines, the cornerstone of our digital information infrastructure. Google currently dominates the market, leading to dependencies and economic damage that are no longer acceptable.
If we were to apply the present situation in the digital world to the mass media, we would find ourselves with only one television channel as the sole source of information for the public. Businesses would also be dependent on this channel, as it would be the only available outlet for their advertising.
Such a situation contradicts the pluralism of our Western democratic societies. Pluralism must also be reflected in a diversity of information systems.
The market has failed in this respect. For more than ten years, we have been dependent on a single search engine, and no other company has been able to challenge it. We do not foresee the market regulating itself in the future.
2. an open index of the web would set the stage for information autonomy in europe’s economy and society
Restoring choice to the search engine market will mean putting prerequisites in place at the European level as a foundation for pluralism and competing search engines. Merely establishing a publicly funded competing search engine would not be appropriate, as this would only create a further monolithic structure.
The open source, open access and open data communities were essential to enabling the web as we know it today and have become the main drivers of the digital economy. A further key element that we currently lack is open access to the information distributed across the web.
To be clear, we are not seeking a government-funded alternative search engine – we want to enable innovation in the business world and civil society by providing searchable web data.
3. our objective: an eu-funded global index of the web
The key to a European digital information infrastructure would be an EU-funded, global, searchable index of the web open to competing companies, institutions and civil-society actors.
There is no alternative to public funding for such a project. Unlike the early years of the web, the present volume of data and growing complexity of the internet means that even major corporations and organizations do not have the financial resources to establish such an index.
The new index could form the basis for general and specialized search engines, analysis tools and many other applications. Any system based on the index would be free to develop its own business model.
As the key to tapping the world’s collective knowledge, the index must be set up and provided as a universally accessible element of public information infrastructure unaffected by commercial interests, not unlike public broadcasting.
Once it is in place, institutions, businesses and civil-society actors will be able to provide innovative services based on the index and compete in delivering the best ideas for its use. The search engine landscape would thus be transformed from the monopoly of a private company to a pluralistic cooperation that would not be at the mercy of a national government or a single business entity.
The signatories call on all actors of the European Union to jointly create the preconditions for independence, diversity and autonomy in Europe’s information infrastructure through an open index of the web.