The impact of Google

The impact of Google

There’s a story in today’s Guardian claiming that a mysterious and reclusive British financier has bought the most expensive apartment ever sold in New York — he’s paying $45 million in cash for a 12,000 square feet, 76th floor flat overlooking Central Park. The building in which this pad is located is still being built, but that’s not the interesting bit. The identity of the buyer is shrouded in mystery. “He’s not a celebrity”, said the Real Estate agent who’s acting for him. “You wouldn’t even find him if you did a Google search”.

Interesting, that, isn’t it. Google is regarded as so powerful and ubiquitous that the new measure of obscurity is that you cannot be found by it. But that’s not the end of the search engine’s quiet penetration. For example, someone came to see me last week about a project I’m working on. After the initial pleasantries he said: “OK. I’ve been to the web site and done a Google search, so we can start from there”. Which I guess would have dismayed some people, but in this context was terrific. It meant that we could get quickly to the heart of what we wanted to discuss.

The other implication of Google+the Web is that one of the tenets of old-style print journalism — the assumption that the writer has privileged information which the reader does not possess — has to be abandoned. It was always unwise for journalists to patronise their readers; but now, it’s absolutely fatal. Better to assume that they know more than you. Apart from anything else, this does wonders for the quality of your work — you have to wise up, not dumb down.

There’s also a constitutional issue about balance of powers. If Google is now so powerful, who’s going to make sure it doesn’t abuse its power? Remember Lord Acton: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. That’s one reason Google Watch is important.

Comment from Ian Winship: “The impact of Google’ should be complemented by the ‘myths of Google’ – ie, that all information is on the Web (but it isn’t); that the Web is free (but lots of professional information is subscription only); that Google can find everything on the Web (not the subscription stuff, not the invisible web, not the open Web that it doesn’t index); that there are no other search engines (there are lots and their coverage overlaps with Google, they have other features), etc.

As well as Googlewatch to monitor Google there’s Gary Price’s Resourceshelf ( which often picks up and comments critically on articles about Google.”