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Google's bright ideas

March 2007

googleThere is no loyalty on the Internet – we will happily cast aside a website like an old newspaper if a better one catches our eye.  We have all seen sites come and go, and those that once looked smart become dusty and unused.  Or perhaps a newcomer has turned our head – we just decamp without a second thought, leaving webmasters regretting their dwindling viewing figures.

Well, it's their own fault.  There is almost nothing as ephemeral as a website – and yesterday's websites can't even be used to wrap fish and chips.  A commercial website is measured largely by the number of viewers it attracts, and hence the number of potential customers that can be tempted to buy things.  It is therefore the duty of any paid website editor to keep it fresh, and up to the mark. 

An excellent example is the astonishing Google.  First they started by inventing a better way of searching the internet.  Don't ask how – it involves a host of curious objects called algorithms.  What is important is that a big team of Google people with very large brains are constantly refining and expanding these abstruse pieces of mathematics.  If you use the internet as much as I do you will have noticed that searching for what you want is getting easier and faster, and the site you actually need is more and more likely to be one of the first few on the list.  So we keep Googling.

It goes against all my instincts to praise any business that is so big and rich (I see it as our role, to some extent, to expose hubris) but I do think that Google are getting it right.  And not just the general searching – they have a huge range of extras that are worth a look, and the range is expanding all the time, as they have bright ideas.  Not all turn out to be of value, but they have a disarming technique of releasing their inspirations for us all to look at, and laugh of praise.

They are in Google Labs in which they show their wilder ideas before they are released for general use (Graduating, in Googlespeak).  Some current excellent efforts include Google Mars, which allows you to examine the surface of Mars.

"Graduates" include Google alerts which will search news sources and web sites all the time for any subject or name you give it, and email you when something new turns up, or the extraordinary Google Earth  which allows you to fly like superman over most of the world (well over aerial photos, anyway) and even peer into Buckingham Palace's garden, or the Forbidden City in Beijing.  You have to download a bit of their software to make it go, and it certainly won't work if you don't have broad band, but it's a great game, once it's up and running.

Next time you look at the Google search page,  look closer.  Above the box where you write what you are looking for are some words – Images, News, and more.  Click on Images, and enter something in the box – say, "Spaniel" and press Search.  You'll be presented with a huge range of pictures of spaniels.

Now click on News and put in the place you live, and see what emerges.  Google news scans more than 4,500 news sources, and stores all it finds for 30 days; it's the largest and most readily available recent cuttings library ever.

You can see the full range of their efforts here.  In short, I think Google are heading in much the right direction at present, and are worth following.  At least until something cleverer pops up.  Which it will.