ISHMAEL N. DARO
Many people have tried to categorize the current crop of young, techno-savvy hipsters with a catchy moniker. Internet, YouTube and iPod Generation have all failed to take hold. The most accurate name, however, is the “Google Generation.”
For better or for worse, young people today are defined by the technology they use. And no one technology has been more instrumental in the digital shift than the Google search engine.
Previously unimaginable amounts of information are now available to regular people thanks to the Internet and search engines are the portal to this new digital landscape.
It’s easy to think of Google in terms of a utility company. They provide certain services like search and YouTube that are integral to the running of the Internet. In return, they stay out of sight and let people go about their business answering emails, reading blogs and giggling at the latest kitten photos.
Google is the Internet’s electric company.
Today, almost 80 per cent of searches in Canada go through Google. As a result of their dominance in search, the company makes billions per year in advertising sales.
Google’s success has its drawbacks, though. For those paranoid about privacy, any company that has such vast stores of information on its users is bad news. In more practical terms, however, Google’s invincibility threatens to undermine the innovation and competition that have made the Internet what it is.
So far, no one has been able to hurt Google’s market share. Not even Amazon and Wikipedia have been able to compete with their own search engines. And does anyone remember HotBot or Altavista?
The latest attempt to dethrone the multi-coloured giant comes from Microsoft. Their new search engine Bing has the technology and money behind it to compete, but history shows that, ultimately, Google devours all the other fish in the sea.
Google has certainly enriched the Internet. The company’s search engine has forced web sites to be cleaner and easier to navigate.
Google’s ads have reduced the number of obtrusive flashing pop-ups in favour of discreet text boxes. Gmail spurred all email providers to do better and provide more services. Small newspapers and publishers are on a more even playing field thanks to Google News.
The list goes on.
Google is also the only company willing to run YouTube, a site that loses half a billion dollars per year but provides an essential service for web users. Without its deep pockets, the site would have likely declared bankruptcy and faded into history like so many email greeting cards.
In addition to YouTube, Google has bought out numerous other companies, all in the drive to increase its empire. But luckily for Internet users, it seems Google’s monopoly in search won’t be repeated in other areas.
In addition to certain successes, Google has also had many failed ventures. The biggest flops have been its social networking, wiki and payment products. Sure, there are millions of people using Orkut in Brazil, but so what? It can’t rival Facebook or Myspace in terms of popularity. Its Wikipedia rival JotSpot was eventually rolled into other products and Google Checkout, an embarrassing PayPal substitute, is still limping along.
In the end, Google seems to have stumbled on a good way to advertise online and actually make money from it. Other than that, the Google brain trust seems to be lost for ideas. And that’s a good thing.
As long as Google maintains the plumbing, ensures the trains run on time and keeps failing outside of search, the Internet will be in no danger of stagnating.