The last time anyone attempted to catalog all the world’s knowledge was in 300BC at the Great Library of Alexandria. They were said to have gathered copies of 75% of all knowledge that existed at the time – then the library burnt down. Now Google has announced that it will set history straight.
“Everything is about information – from books to music, from education to medicine, from games to business strategy, from a Picasso portrait to the price of a cauliflower in your neighborhood store. We want to be the epicenter of your world of information,” says the GoogleGrid launch message.
Google’s moves in the past few years have established the de facto information matrix – and all the supporting applications – that we all share today. In some ways it’s like the matrix in the movie of that name, dark and threatening to personal liberties.
Protests seem to increase in direct proportion to Google’s share price. But, to many, Google’s moves are truly liberating and closing the world’s digital divide.
GoogleGrid has merged its own existing capabilities with Berners-Lee’s idea of the Semantic Web – linking information buried in data bases to that already available on the web, available to anyone. In the eyes of aficionados, this is real democratization of information and knowledge.
“Access to communications and knowledge is a basic human right,” says FutureWorld’s Wolfgang Grulke. “Google is a big step towards that reality”.
ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be
Background on Google
(Extracted from www.Wikipedia.com with thanks)
Google Inc. designed and manages the Internet Google search engine. The company employs approximately 5,700 employees and is based in Mountain View, California.
The name ‘Google’ is a play on the word ‘Googol’, which was coined by Milton Sirotta, nine-year-old nephew of US mathematician Edward Kasner in 1938, to refer to the number represented by 1 followed by one hundred zeros.
Google’s services are run on several server farms, each consisting of many thousand low-cost commodity computers running stripped-down versions of Linux. While the company does not provide detailed information about its hardware, it was estimated in 2005 that they were using over 100,000 Linux machines.
Google began as a research project in January 1996 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, two Ph.D. students at Stanford. They hypothesized that a search engine that analyzed the relationships between Web sites would produce better results than existing techniques. (Contemporary search engines essentially ranked results according to how many times the search term appeared on a page.)
The domain google.com was registered on September 15, 1997. They formally incorporated their company, Google Inc., on September 7, 1998 at a friend’s garage in Menlo Park, California.
The Google search engine quickly attracted a loyal following among the growing number of internet users. They were attracted to its simple, uncluttered, clean design — a competitive advantage to attract users who did not wish to enter searches on web pages filled with visual distractions. In 2000, Google began selling advertisements associated with the search keyword to produce enhanced search results for the user. This strategy was important for increasing advertising revenue, which is based upon the number of ‘hits’ users make upon ads.
At its peak in early 2004, Google handled upwards of 84.7 percent of all search requests on the World Wide Web through its Web site and through its partnerships with other Internet clients like Yahoo!, AOL, and CNN.
Today the verb ‘to google’ has entered a number of languages first as a slang verb and now as a standard word meaning, ‘to perform a web search’.
Google’s declared code of conduct is ‘Don’t Be Evil’, a phrase which they went so far as to include in their prospectus for their IPO, noting “We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served — as shareholders and in all other ways — by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains.”
Controversy has occurred over Google’s decision to participate in the Chinese government’s Internet censorship policy, colloquially known as ‘The Great Firewall of China’. Google.cn search results are filtered so as not to bring any results up on Tiananmen Square, Taiwan, Democracy, the independence movements of Tibet and Taiwan, the Dalai Lama (any results describe him as a troublemaker), Falun Gong and anti-Communist information. This is interpreted by some activists as against the ‘Don’t Be Evil’ spirit.
Since their IPO, Google’s stock market capitalization has risen greatly. On June 7, 2005, Google was valued at nearly US$ 52 billion, making it one of the world’s biggest media companies by stock market value.
With Google’s increased size comes more competition from large mainstream technology companies. One such example is the rivalry between Microsoft and Google. Microsoft has been touting its MSN Search engine to counter Google’s competitive position. Furthermore, the two companies are increasingly offering overlapping services, such as webmail (Gmail vs. Hotmail), search (both online and local desktop searching), and other applications (for example, Microsoft’s Virtual Earth competes with Google Earth).
Google’s range of applications is expanding constantly and their usage remains free to users, despite the fact that Google is now spending in excess of US$ 1 billion a year to increase the capacity of its global infrastructure – the hardware of the grid.
2005: Information Wars
Bold information wars erupt between the various search engines and software companies.
Amazon launches its Search Inside!™ feature where you can search millions of pages to find exactly the book you want to buy. The previous Amazon search displayed books whose title, author, or publisher-provided keywords matched your search terms. But with Search Inside!, search results will include titles based on every word inside the book.
Google Book Search (and their Library Project) took the game to a new level, promising to store the contents of “all the world’s books” so that they can be searched online. Due to Google’s market prominence this created a storm of protest from publishers worried that their copyright controls would be infringed. Google’s reply was designed to put their minds at rest: “The idea is for you to ‘find’ books (and buy them) not to read them online.” Google has the right to books at Oxford, Harvard and Stanford universities and the NY Public Library.
The idea is that the search would show you only “a few snippets – a few sentences with your search term in context.” It became apparent to critics that if you automated enough searches you could actually create a complete electronic copy of the book’s contents!
Brewster Kahle and the Open Content Alliance (backed by Yahoo and Microsoft) also have a plan to digitize all books. They have the right to do this for the British Library and are enlisting more support.
It is clear that all these competing efforts will result in much duplication and redundant effort.
2006: Google buys up dark bandwidth and launches GoogleOS
Google continues buying up a lot of dark (unused) optical fiber across the world. Google plans to use this for improved data access and transfer for its users. Early in February it is announced that Google will participate in a global network of shared WiFi hot-spots including Skype, Sequoia Capital and Index Ventures.
Google introduces GoogleOS, a new Linux-based operating system, that includes OpenOffice as part of its application suite. Both are available as a free download on its website.
This direct threat to Microsoft Windows and Office is seen as just a first step in Google’s plans for the future.
2007: Google and Sun JV threat to PC-centric world
A joint announcement by Google and Sun focuses on a “Network-Centric Universe”.
“Today, network speeds and availability have put telecommunications capability far ahead of microprocessor speeds. In future, there will be no sense in doing any processing or storage on the desk-top,” says Google CEO. “We have already facilitated zero-cost operating systems and office applications (With GoogleOS and OpenOffice). Now we are announcing our network-based computing service. You will no longer need to use a PC at all – all you need is Google access, at home, at work or in your hotel and you can use any existing infrastructure (cell phone, smart phone, television or PC) to access and process all your information wherever it may be.”
“Here’s our message to you – do not replace your current PC – ever! Just dump it!”
2008: GoogleGrid is launched
Google fleshes out its application portfolio with a dazzling array of free services and delivers on its 2007 promise. Google encourages road warriors not to travel with a laptop but to access everything on the network.
The Google application portfolio now includes:
- AdWords: These familiar ads at the right of your Google search results connect sellers with new customers at the precise moment when they’re looking for products or services. The Google network reaches more than 90% of Internet users (up from 80% in 2005) and has annual advertising revenues in excess of US$30 billion (up from US$6 billion in 2005).
- GoogleOffice: Google’s version of OpenOffice that guarantees support response within 12 hours.
- GoogleMail: One of the first Google successes has now become the standard for all email for the under-35s.
- GoogleWallet: Google’s financial infrastructure supplanted Microsoft’s .Net strategy and has launched seriously useful eCash applications.
- GoogleLibrary: “every book on the planet”, now available in downloadable form for free (for those out of copyright) or at a fee. Amazon has been forced by commercial reality to merge its commercial operations with Google.
- GoogleMusic: any music at an average of 10c a track and has decimated the iTunes business (built on a $1 a song model).
- GoogleMovies: a distribution channel for any moving image from entertainment to documentary. BBC now distributes 80% of its non-fiction digital content through Google.
- GoogleWorld: a VR experiment that has sold US$1 billion in virtual real estate.
2009: Negative Reaction to GoogleGrid grows
Fuelled by increasing concerns about Google’s continuing deference to Chinese and Indian governments to tailor their morals to political whims, and fanned by competitor despair at Google’s continued growth, new negative attitudes surface daily towards the GoogleGrid.
Google’s free email service, Gmail, plus Google’s almost ‘spooky’ success with targeted advertising, continues to raise questions about the security and privacy of users’ personal information. Now that Google is providing some of the technical underpinnings for the next generation of network applications and operating systems, the answers to these questions will affect everyone.
“The Matrix is here!” screams a headline in the New York Times
Is this matrix benevolent or just the latest corporate monolith?