Google Everything! Too Late, Dude

December 28, 2009

There were some major events in information access that I recall from my student research. Among the nails on the information highway were:

  1. The shift from clay tablets to more portable and less breakable media like sheepskin
  2. The change from hand copied documents to wood block printing
  3. The move from live performances to recorded performances
  4. The abandonment of a person on a horse bearing a message to a series of dots and dashes transmitted over a wire.

I am now a veteran of other, somewhat less significant shifts; namely, the move from a mainframe to a gizmo I can hold in my hand. I use a computer to create text instead of writing with a pencil on paper unless the airplane person tells me to turn off any device with a switch. I no longer visit the library to do research because I can access information online. Because I don’t do much scholarly research, I can get by with the free services that offer the effluvia of modern information flows of which this Web log is an example.

The write up called “Search, but You May Not Find” in the Ne York Times reminded me of these previous information disruptions. What is interesting is that when the disruption is finally recognized as significant, it is too late to do much about it. For an interesting example, look at what happened in Europe after the invention and diffusion of the printing press. The technology had been invented in China earlier, but the political climate and consumer climate in Europe was different from that in China when the invention was put in use. In Europe, the printing press set in motion a number of billiard balls, and their complex interactions caused some exciting events. In addition to outright murder and large scale political upheaval, the fracturing of the more or less solid institutions had interesting effects.

This editorial (maybe a better word is polemic) documents that a similar shift has happened. Google has become the new Gutenberg, an idea I developed in my most recent monograph, “Google: The Digital Gutenberg”. As I point out in that monograph, it is now too late to do much about Google. I argued in my 2005 monograph “The Google Legacy” that if Google were killed in 2005, more Googles would proliferate. The reason is that former Googlers would just take their Google learnings and go forward. Ergo: more Googles.

The objections to Google and the implicit appeal of the editorial (maybe polemic) is to stop Google. I don’t anticipate that the anti Google forces will show up in Mountain View with flaming torches and clubs. Today’s methods will be legal and somewhat indirect.

I think suggesting that Google is in some way different from other commercial enterprises is silly. Google is 11 years old, and it is doing what Ronald Reagan supported with enthusiasm. You might want to dust off your economic texts from graduate school, but the pro Google forces will point to that fun writer Joseph Schumpeter or one of his kissing cousins, and you will be talking as Google expands into the soft, fatty underbelly of existing markets.


Someone missed the boat. Image source:

Let’s face facts. The people who are making Google popular are the same people who have made iTunes the big cat in the mobile music world. The children of executives who run publishing companies, television stations, music companies, and other types of media firms are doing the driving. Mom and dad can write essays (maybe even vitriolic ones), but the demographics are tough to fight.

Will “killing Google” accomplish more today than if Google had been “killed” in 1998 or 2004? Nope. The reason is that the shifts from clay to sheepskin make sense because they make certain information tasks easier. In addition, other benefits accrue. These range from intellectual freedom to better, faster, and cheaper. Information is power and when a new medium such as that I described in my monograph “Publishing on the Internet: A New Medium for a New Millennium” emerges, there is not much any one person, industry, or trade association can do. Maybe ?inggis Qa?an could pull it off, but even he would be hard pressed to control the information access methods in today’s world.

My take aways from this op-ed piece were:

  1. Traditional publishers are using their information dissemination tools to mount a campaign against Google. Other vendors are mentioned, but these guys are small peas next to the Google rutabaga
  2. The arguments are presented without the context of the demographic shifts that prefer the online approaches exemplified by Google and any other outfit that undermines the former dominate information mode
  3. The howling, like King Lear’s, is coming too late. The guy is outside, miserable, and not getting much traction. Maybe the outcries will produce a hearing but those take time. Time is running out for the displaced information modes. When Google shows up to answer questions, the company just says we are an ad outfit. What’s more American than marketing?

In short, interesting approach. Too little. Way too late in my opinion. In short, the patricians in New York and London will understand the core truth of Heraclitus’ observation: ????? ??? ??? ????? ?????.

Stephen E. Arnold, December 28, 2009

No one paid me to write this. Heck, I even pay for a hard copy of the New York Times and pay for online connectivity so I can post my added goose musings. I suppose I can report this to TSA, but I think that organization is occupied with other matters today.


One Response to “Google Everything! Too Late, Dude”

  1. SEO News - The SEO News Blog with Pat Marcello on December 29th, 2009 5:55 pm

    […] Google Everything! Too Late, Dude […]

  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Meta