When Tim Berners-Lee announced he was going to change the world with the world wide web, the headline read ‘Yeah Right’.
One scientist sneered “They said Sinclair’s C5 would change the world, now you’d struggle to give one away.”
While another stated “This could be huge. The idea that strangers worldwide sharing ideas instantly is mind boggling.”
And HUGE it is!
When Larry Page and Sergey Brin first developed ‘BackRub’ (a name that could never have become part of modern verancular “BackRub it” … ur, no) the first search engine was born.
Thankfully, the changed the search engine’s name (to Google) and the rest is, as they say, history.
From a humble start in the midst of the dot com boom, Google is now listed in the Oxford English Dictionary as a term. Funnily enough the example they give is “on Sunday she Googled an ex-boyfriend” Haven’t we all done that!
The search functionality is only part of the Google story. The culture that the company has developed has become as famous as it’s product. Bowling alleys in the office, pub-style breakout areas and meeting eggs. No one need wear a suit to be successful. Money can be made without doing ‘evil’ and “Finding the answer” is Google’s issue, never yours.
Their biggest boast is in complete contradiction to most commercial websites: their goal is to have people leave their website as quickly as possible. Searches come in at a fraction of a second and ‘Great’ isn’t good enough.
But what does the Google empire mean for humankind?
It means that there is a repository of your digital profile online for eternity. Nothing is ever really deleted or removed from the web and once it’s online, it’s almost impossible to track where each download or copy has ultimately ended up.
It also means that you need a Google account to access many mainstream features and services. Want to favourite a video on YouTube? You’ll need an account for that. Use Google Sites – yep, an account is needed and if you’re looking for an email address you really can’t go past GMail -> which of course is part of your Google account.
Google is also placing its products (existing and new/developed) in direct competition with non-Google enterprises.
Google Chrome is an example that has been well received by Google’s cult consumer following. Google + however is dying a slow death due to Facebook’s prominence as a social network.
Google’s foray into the mobile phone operating system (OS) environment has been very successful. Android phones can be found across a range of brands, in various price brackets making it more accessible to low-end users than the Apple iPhone.
It’s App store is also making a point of difference with Developer remuneration strategies, something that Apple has remained resistant to so far.
On of the biggest forays into a previously tightly held Apple market for Google has been education: and it’s not even a direct competitor as Apple and Google for education can work in synergy (although arguably you could do the same with the available Apple software) But in it’s point of difference Google takes the IT infrastructure costs and maintenance away from the education provider, at cost. Thus outsourcing many IT functions which may have significant savings for larger institutions.
But whether you use Google as ‘Dr Google’, to snoop on your neighbours with Google Maps and Google Earth, or to watch parodies and memes on YouTube (my favourite is Bararck Obama singing ‘Call me maybe’) Google has permeated through almost all online content and search capabilities. Let’s face it: no one ‘Bings it’.
One of the biggest developments of the decade has been the rise of citizen journalism: which is having a direct impact on paid professional journalism. With footage, photos and blogs so readily available as free content commercial television and radio no longer require a large staff of journalists and editors to ‘make’ news. The public are doing it for them: for free.
It’s policies of transparency and sharing do place Google in a very grey space in the black-and-white environment of privacy, human rights and freedom of expression.
Is Google an invasion of Privacy? (Google Maps, Google Earth)
Is complete information sharing a good thing? Is knowledge really empowering?
Is online democracy and citizen journalism fundamental rights of human expression and creativity?
To answer those questions, all you have to do is – Google it.
You can access the slides from the presentation here: The Gospel According to Google
* This blog formed the basis of a presentation to Victoria University Media Students in September of 2012. (c) Nicole Matejic 2012.