Saturday, October 11, 2003

Is Google a more dangerous monopoly than Microsoft?

As a monopoly Microsoft controls the tools and platform the majority of people use to access the internet. While this has significance in terms of how the browser and the desktop evolves it is not nearly significant as the control of how we discover information. This thought was sparked by the article Google CEO speaks out on future of search where Eric Schmidt talks about the need for personalization in search. and Google's acquisition of Kaltix a personalization technology for search.

Google is becoming the gatekeeper of information for the new millennium. The first place I, and many others go to find something is Google - the power and responsibility this gives Google is enormous. The view I and others now have of the world is to some extent controlled by Google. This control of information dwarfs any monopoly Microsoft has of the desktop. There are two filters Google is starting to put on my information flow - one is advertising and the other is personalization.

The lure and power of advertising dollars has resulted in a media industry that (IMHO) is bland and vapid. The content of television is extremely bland due to the power of the advertisers - lets not offend anyone. Already we are starting to wonder if search results are being ordered by dollars rather than relevance in Google. Can Google resist the power of the advertisers, today yes perhaps as a private company. When they become public the need to deliver quarterly numbers will put tremendous pressure on them will the separation of commerce and search survive?

Personalization of search results also worries me as if I people are only served information that pleases them there is a strong tendency for us to believe that our world view is correct. I look to a search engine to expand my horizons not shrink them into my safe zone. Personalization has a tendency to link us to others that thing the same and have similar tastes. Is there a personalization setting to challenge my thinking?

Google is doing the right thing to generate revenue and compete economically but is this the best thing for society as a whole?. I, and I am sure others treat Google like a library - an impartial source of information, it is now becoming a bookstore that tries to merchandise the information it is offering. What happens when the library disappears and we only have the merchandising?. If Google is the only search engine around we are suddenly in a world where our information access is controlled by a single entity that has at the heart of its economic model advertising dollars. If Google does not serve up the information - does the information exist?

If Google does become an information filter - we need another way to have direct un-filtered access to information - the PBS of search. One interesting project in this area is Nutch founded by Doug Cutting the creator of Lucene. A free society requires free access to information - lets make sure information access stays open.

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