Genius of Google
Defining Google allows one to understand the phenomenon of knowing that is so pervasive in our society. Google is far from just a white webpage with colourful letters – it is an infrastructure of thousands of low-cost computers, which carry out parallel processing – they split complex problems into millions of simple calculations carried out simultaneously. The genius of Google rests on 3 stages. Googlebots are simple computers, which open webpages all over the internet and download their content. The Indexer researches the websites and places them in Google’s index in systemic order so that they can be quickly found. Finally PageRank assigns each website in the index ranking depending on its relevance. When a man searches on Google, he is met with a cold system of precision – the computers find websites, which contain the search term and choose the ones, which have highest PageRank.
A brilliant calculative system that lacks an important characteristic – human factor. PageRank assigns ranking in large part based on the popularity, so that webpages clicked most often are considered more relevant. This creates a vicious circle – the ranking of the most popular websites constantly increases, because they come up first among search results. More than that, Google has developed “personalized search” feature – it builds up a record of someone’s search history and other information and uses this as signals to determine what kind of results they’ll find useful. In effect, Google narrows down what people find when they search. It creates a bubble of information and knowledge around them. People have all the knowledge of the world, but are left in the dark of Google-mism.
Emancipation from Google-mism
Following the Snowden scandal, there has been a wave of discontent. Suddenly, it became apparent that what we search for is stored and analyzed by Google. In their sudden outrage, people have tried out alternative search engines like Startpage, Ixquick and DuckDuckGo. Ixquick saw a surge in its traffic to five million users a day following the Snowden’s revelations. There is no question that these search engines are inferior in comparison to Google. Startpage, for example, simply buys search results from Google. Its sister company Ixquick and DuckDuckGo show results compiled from a number of different search engines. More importantly, however, they are unable to pierce the bubble of Google-mism around us.
Google is invincible in the realm of factual searching – when people look for encyclopedic answers to fact-based questions, no other source is as accurate. However, like any other “ism”, Google-mism lacks originality and inspiration. It is quick to show recipes for delicate dishes typical for Rhone Alps, but does not give one the inspiration to think of a cooking vacation in the French region as something interesting in the first place. There are sites which can fill this void. Pinterest is a visual discovery website, where users “pin” pictures to create long boards of inspiration. It is a unique source for people who want to “search to discover”.
More importantly, Google’s problems are structural. What people are searching for is becoming increasingly complex. In complete faith, they feed Google with long-winded questions, looking for advice rather than just a source of factual knowledge. To answer questions, Google’s algorithms become ever more complex – the site has to store personal information about people to understand them better and comes under attack for doing so. Court rulings such as the “right to be forgotten” in Europe are dangerous for Google’s core merits. More than that, the social networking websites can now fulfill the role of giving advice to people better. Twitter allows its user to get an almost instantaneous response to a question from his social circle of people that he is connected with. In effect, Twitter is becoming a human-powered search engine, whose results are both original and inspiring precisely because they are generated by people. The type of search which brought revenue to Google is disappearing thanks to Amazon. Eric Schmidt has admitted that Amazon poses the biggest threat to Google’s search hegemony. Since Amazon has become the one stop shop for most of people’s purchases, they do not need to search for products through Google. Instead, they go directly to Amazon, because they know that they will find the product that they look for. In effect, Google has lost the type of search which brought it revenue – the search for products.
Visionary and far-fetched projects like robotics or self-driving cars are pursued by Google because it wants to attract talent and boost its reputation, but also because it wants to maintain its hegemony – its control over information. The self-driving car, drone-delivery project or intelligent glasses – all of Google’s projects are a new means to encompass our lives – to accompany us every step of the way. Google deserves to be called “-ism” now more than ever before.