Weekly #5: Should we be afraid of Google?

John Battelle’s book published in 2005, The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture, presents some interesting concepts to think about.

“Link by link, click by click, search is building possibly the most lasting, ponderous, and significant cultural artifact in the history of humankind: the Database of Intentions.  The Database of Intentions is simply this: the aggregate results of every search ever entered, every result list ever tendered, and every path taken as a result.  It lives in many places, but three or four places in particular—AOL, Google, MSN, Yahoo—hold a massive amount of this data.  Taken together, this information represents a real-time history of post-Web culture—a massive click stream database of desires, needs, wants, and preferences that can be discovered, subpoenaed, archived, tracked, and exploited for all sorts of ends.” Page  6.

Should we be afraid of the wealth of information Google holds on its servers?  What information does Google posses that would affect ones privacy?  What information can Google legally give to authorities and under what circumstances? Does it even matter?

Obviously the Web has changed tremendously since Battelle’s book was published in 2005.  For more updated commentary from Battelle, Gord Hotchkiss from the Search Engine Land website, recently interviewed Battelle (March 19) and wrote an article titled: John Battelle On The Future Of Search.   The following is a glimpse of what Battelle had to say:

“We’re going through a shift in how folks are understanding what search really means to them. And what it means to them is “I have a need and I need it fulfilled, and I’m going to use the online medium to fulfill it in some way.” We had a very, very basic, well-understood use case for 10 years, which was Google or “like Google”—you put in a couple keywords and you get a response back. And that framework of searching and coming back with the best document to answer a query is morphing. People are asking far more complicated questions now and they’re demanding far more nuanced answers, simply because they know they’re out there.

As noted, as the internet continues to grow, people are demanding more out of search, especially Google search and related Google applications – so it sounds only logical to me in order to receive (good search results) you have to give (personal information), it’s a two-way relationship.  In other words, as users of the Web we cannot demand the best without giving a little first.

Search results are driven by algorithms, algorithms are driven by information, and it’s as simple as that.

A recent post on Battelle’s blog, titled: The Database of Intentions Is Far Larger Than I Thought (March 5), Battelle discusses how social networks fit into the database of intentions.  The following is a brief excerpt of him talking about location-based social networks such as Foursquare.

“The latest signal is The Check-in – or Where I Am. This is a crowning declaration of intent, in a fashion, because it connects the physical to the virtual, securing the Database of Intentions to the terra firma of the Real World. As with the other three fields, the check-in – which I expect will soon become automatic via our mobile devices – is a vastly powerful signal of intent: ‘I am here. So what you got for me?’”

It is scary how synonymous our lives are becoming with the Web.  We search, publish, blog, status update, Tweet, post pictures, use Google maps and GPS functions on our cell phone, and now we “check-in”.  What will be next, where is the trend going?

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