Multiplex Division

Dear J-

I’ve been thinking about Google lately; if you remember before the browser wars, there were competing search engines all around, from the first efforts of Jerry Yang’s Yahoo! to various spidering sites like Inktomi. The one that I used reliably roughly fifteen years ago was Altavista — this probably because I had a soft spot in my heart for Digital Equipment Corporation, at one point the number two vendor of computer equipment behind IBM and dedicated to going it on their own path — from the semi-PC compatible Rainbow 100 to the speed-is-everything Alpha chips — before being swallowed up by Compaq.

Google changed that; from the first inklings of how broad it was to the fascinating depths it could plumb, it soon became my default go-to engine. When I was little I learned that the term ‘google’ meant the number one followed by a hundred zeroes (1E100, if you rather), and it felt like the secrets of the Internet were laid bare in an unassuming little text-entry box. Although no one’s quite replicated the secret sauce that brings back bushels of hits, the current commercials from Bing are amusingly spoofy: there’s still a lot of work to be done to separate the chaff from the wheat, although a lot of people prefer doing just that.

I suppose that’s part of their success: everyone’s developed their own algorithm to sort through Google results; better to include everything rather than feel as if some robot somewhere is deciding what’s important. It’s funny that we’d accept that, but then again this is the land of super-sizing and SUVs: better to get more than you might need: you’ll grow into those shoes, kid. It works for search engines (as wide a net as you can cast is never a bad thing) but now Google wants to be Microsoft (everywhere, all the time) and I’m not convinced that their corporate motto (“Don’t be evil”) and generic bigger-is-better philosophy is sufficient any more.

Mike

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