Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Google. the Power and the Glory

A few nights ago I watched a Dutch documentary on Google; "Behind the Screen". It was an interesting 47 minutes. Not a lot of surprises but the issues raised by the film were poignant. Google's approach to work reminds me a lot of the IDEO Lab's so called Deep Dive technique from the late 1990's. This is not surprising considering they both share a close relationship with Stanford University, which is made apparent in "Behind the Screen" (online at GUBA) The main concern I came away with from "Behind the Screen" was a result of the interview with the very wise Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive among other things. I paraphrase it something like this; if Google Books succeeds in scanning in a billion books using its secret patented technology it comes to own these books in their translated form. It now controls a significant manifestation of human knowledge. At the moment Google seems to be being very generous with its assets. But how do we know this will continue?
The other issue raised in the film is about privacy. This is not a unique situation regrading Google, it is a shadow falling across the knowledge/information based economy worldwide. Surveillance Theory should be taught at High School, but it won't be because then it wouldn't be as easy to monitor people as it is. Critical thinking is the solution to many of the 'problems' discussed in "Behind the Screen". In digitally literate cultures people are aware of the pitfalls before they happen.
There are many online search engines available (here are 54) but Google gives a large return with a high relevance. Here is a search on Google Images for 'Fake Google':

Here are the first results for a search on Microsoft's Live Search for 'Fake Google':

The Google return is much greater (six times) and, in the early returns at least, more relevant (maybe this drops off dramatically). Nine of the top ten are about fake google sites compared to six of ten on the Microsoft search. I suppose that's why Google has 70% of the north American search engine market in its extensive archives.

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