The founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, modeled their revolutionary search engine on the citational logic of the footnote and thus transposed many of its assumptions about knowledge and technology into a digital medium. Google “organizes the world’s information,” as their motto goes, by modeling the hyperlink structure inherent in the document-based Web; that is, it produces search results based on all of the pointing between digital texts that hyperlinks do. Taking advantage of the enormous scaling power afforded by digitization, Google, however, takes this citational logic to both a conceptual and practical extreme. Whereas the footnotes in Enlightenment texts were always bound to particular pages, Google uses each hyperlink as a data point for its algorithms and creates a digitized map of all possible links among documents.

Page and Brin started from the insight that the web “was loosely based on the premise of citation and annotation—after all, what is a link but a citation, and what was the text describing that link but annotation.”29 Page himself saw this citational logic as the key to modeling the Web’s own structure. Modern academic citation is simply the practice of pointing to other people’s work—very much like the footnote. As we saw with Enlightenment journals, a citation not only lists important information about another work, but also confers authority on that work: “the process of citing others confers their rank and authority upon you—a key concept that informs the way Google works.”