Books Say Google Is Scary AND Has Lost Its Mojo


google_recruiting_small.jpgADOTAS – National Book Week isn’t till August, so perhaps we can proclaim this “National Books About Google Week.”

First up is the “perhaps you’re not paranoid enough” entry, “The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry)” by media critic and professor Siva Vaidhyanathan. Google has turned into something out of the “Pit of Ultimate Darkness” — Evil, EVIL!!! Well, in the help-an-old-lady-with-her-groceries kind of way.

Actually, Vaidhyanathan is more concerned about “googlization” than Google (though he’s worried about Big G as well). Internet users are over-relying on ad-supported search engines that deliver results colored by advertisers, particularly local ones. Since Google equals search in so many Internet users minds (as well as their browser default settings), the company gets the most attention.

“Google, the most flexible yet powerful information filter we use regularly, could come to exercise inordinate influence over our decisions and values,” Vaidhyanathan explains. He argues Google is more about shopping than learning as results are filtered by what would encourage consumers to head to a local store.

While Google certainly provides a valuable service, Vaidhyanathan claims the company is overreaching, particularly in its goals to foster a digital library. He proposes something akin to a “Human Knowledge Project” headed up by state institutions.

But how users take advantage of Google Search is changing. As TechCrunch’s Mike Arrington argued a while back, searches increasingly already know what they are looking for and merely use Google as an ad-supported tour guide. How many people use Google searches to find Wikipedia pages? IMDB movie pages?

I’d argue that searchers understand Google is trying to influence their purchasing decisions — call it a tradeoff for the use of its Internet scouring engine. This also ties into the rise of social search — consciously or subconsciously, searchers are annoyed by this manipulation and are turning to signals from contacts and acquaintances to lead them to more valuable resources. Even Google recognizes this trend — perhaps you’ve heard of +1, its version of the Facebook Like?

So I don’t think Vaidhyanathan is giving Internet users enough credit — we’re smarter than we look.

On the other side, “In the Plex: How Google Thinks Works and Shapes Our Lives” by tech journeyman Steven Levy, actually got modest approval from Matt Cutts, head of Google’s anti-spam,

An “inside-out” look at Google then and now, the most interesting part seems to be the giant’s numerous stumbles in the last few years — China, Wave and, who could forget, Buzz. (Certainly the Federal Trade Commission won’t be forgetting for the next 20 years.)

The Buzz stories are telling, and don’t set a good precedent for Google’s future social endeavors — especially since the engineers are running all the shops now and reporting directly to re-crowned CEO Larry Page.

The original code name for Buzz was “Taco Town,” based on a “Saturday Night Live” skit. According to Levy, the name “reflected Googlers’ judgment of the Internet’s current social strategy: big messy layers of greasy, unwholesome stuff whose caloric volume tried to compensate,”

Now actually watch the skit (it’s short). The moral I see is: when you mash a bunch of stuff people are kinda into together in a haphazard fashion (I love the slopping of the chili in the tote bag at the very end), the end product is disturbing, messy and likely to get laughed at. Add a bunch of privacy lawsuits to the mix and it sounds like… Google Buzz.

At the center of that mess, there’s a perfectly good taco — Gmail — a straightforward dish that doesn’t need any more embellishment than a little salsa (priority inbox?).

Levy corroborates that nobody at Google was considering privacy issues as Buzz came to market. Interestingly, one Googler says, “We should have known people were gunning for us,”

You guys never considered the data privacy implications of launching a social network based off your existing email platform and you think the critics were “gunning” for you? Were Googlers completely oblivious to all the privacy crap that Facebook was eating at the same time for editing its privacy policy?

Even Google admits Buzz will forever be a scar on its social efforts, but it’s not clear if the company has learned anything from the debacle.


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