Look out any window and you’ll see St. Martin. At least, you’ll see part of it. You might see your neighbors working on their house, cars passing in the street or clouds rolling in. Every window presents a slightly different view of the island.
If you don’t have a good view in the right direction, you might check Google for the weather. Beneath the forecast, you may see a section titled “People also ask.” Below are a series of questions that you can click to reveal the answers:
What is there to do in Saint Martin? What is the water temperature in St Maarten? What is there to do in Saint Martin? Is St Martin safe? Which side of Saint Martin is better? Do they speak English in St Martin? Can I use my credit card in St Maarten?
It is clear that a lot of the people asking questions about St. Martin are choosing their next vacation destination. As one of the world’s largest advertising platforms, Google is happy to help them find a place to spend their money. Hopefully some of it gets spent here.
Google says its mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” It is a worthy goal. In practice, St. Martiners researching their heritage have a hard time. Authentic voices from and about St. Martin are buried under pages for and by outsiders looking to visit. These travel sites present a limited and often inaccurate view of the island.
This problem is not a surprise. Google is a company, not a library. The infinite potential of the internet promised a place for all voices. In practice, most voices are buried. As algorithms pick out the questions and answers for us, things may get worse. People ask Google, Siri or Alexa for answers, and they are less likely to know where those answers come from.
For the question “What is the crime rate in St Martin?” Google presents a page that generates a “crime rate” based on an internet survey that was filled out by two people. Questions about language, history and geography are answered from travel forums and hotel websites.
What can we do? We can get more St. Martin voices online and searchable. We could bring archives online and digitally republish books and articles. Amazing stuff is being shared on Facebook, and it deserves to be on the web for all to enjoy. Many great resources don’t even have a chance to be in web search results because they aren’t on the web yet.
St. Martin should also curate its own story. Anyone can edit Wikipedia, and information there makes its way all over the web. The island needs more web sites for and by St. Martiners. Libraries, museums and schools need the resources to safeguard and share the stories of St. Martin. The island needs to train its own experts for this crucial role. We can’t change Google, but we can change St. Martin.
How would you make sure St. Martin has a voice in telling its own story? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or email@example.com.