Google: Behind the screen


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GOOGLE: A critical look at Google behind the screen

A wise man once said: “We should always be cautious of that which is powerful.” No doubt Google has become an extremely powerful entity in our modern lives. It can be argued that it is fast becoming the gatekeeper of all of the world’s information — the new Great Library of Alexandria. Yet to be cautious of this requires reason to be so, and what better place to start than to understand how Google works.

HOW GOOGLE WORKS

Internet databaseGoogle can basically be separated into three parts – search, database and interface. To take account of all the new information and web pages that appear on the web on a daily basis, Google sends out digital robots (also called bots, spiders or crawlers). These bits of software crawl the Internet and scan new content and web pages. They assess what words, and more specifically, what keywords, are used on each page and send these to a database.

The physical part of the Internet can basically be thought of as huge, underground databases. Envision underground computers with powerful processors and lots of storage space. All the information gathered by the Google bots is brought back to these databases where it is stored. Importantly, information is only gathered from the web pages which Google sends out bots for. This excludes web pages that are not indexed by Google, are hidden from Google or require a password or some kind of authority to access.

And then we have the interface. This is essentially the Google search bar, which we are all familiar with and often take completely for granted. When we type in keywords or search phrases into the Google search bar, the Google bots search the database and bring up web pages that contain a high number of those keywords.

HOW GOOGLE BEGAN AND GREW

Google billboard equationGoogle began with a small group of engineers in 1999, who became overnight billionaires after Google went public in 2004. The company now employs the keenest minds from around the world and is still growing. At one point Google devised a mathematical equation which was advertised on large billboards worldwide. Solving the equation and typing the result into the Google search bar took one to the Google jobs page.

It has to be said that Google employees with cushy jobs have it good. At the corporate Google Headquarters (Googleplex) in California, employees are allowed 20% of their working time to pursue whatever they are passionate about. There are also several stress-relieving facilities available such as gyms to volley ball courts. Employees may even get a professional massage during their lunch breaks.

The Google goldmine is in advertising. Generally the first three web pages that appear as a result of a search are sponsored links. These are usually highlighted in some way. The links that appear along the right-hand column are also sponsored links. Companies bid against one another for these spots, which has proven to be an effective and profitable system.

GOOGLE’S GOALS

Google’s initial aim was to create the world’s best search engine. Its stated goal now is to host all of the world’s information. Google Search has literally expanded into space, with offerings such as Google Books, Google Maps and Google Mars just to name a few. However, there is also the phenomenon of Internet users constantly pouring in new content. The goal on Google’s part here is to organise all this information.

GoogleplexThe Internet is now flooded with large amounts of opinion pieces as more and more people throw in their two cents. But how can a search engine be objective and rank opinion? At one point in time, a search for “the holocaust” fetched articles with titles such as “Did the Holocaust really happen?” A search for “the truth behind 9/11” fetched a host of conspiracy theories arguing that 9/11 was a governmental orchestrated undertaking.

With such an influx of good and bad information, it’s fair to say that Google employees have their work cut out for them. To keep things democratic, Google has started giving preference to web pages that update more frequently and are more interactive in terms of user participation and commentary. The relevance of any piece of information on the web is also largely determined by how many external web pages link or point to that information.

ISSUES OF PRIVACY

The fact that Google stores user information is not something it tries to cover up. It openly states that this information is used to help improve Google services. However, even if Google doesn’t misuse this information, there is very little preventing others from doing so. Information regarding user behaviour, such as your search habits and history for example, can and have been sold to third-party advertisers arming their spam cannons.

Whether we consider Google as a profit driven company acting under a façade or not, the question begged for, really, is whether Google (and ergo the Internet in general) will ultimately become a public enterprise or a public enterprise.

A further point of concern is the idea of Google having a monopoly over all of the world’s information. While anyone is free to create a search engine, your chances of competing with Google and being taken seriously are less than slim.

As difficult as it may be, laws of media diversity will have to find a firmer place online if we are to prevent a situation of having one world view or ideology at the expense of critical thought.

Why Google is called Google
The name “Google” originated from a misspelling of “googol”, which refers to 10100 (the number represented by a one followed by 100 zeros). Having found its way into everyday language, the verb “google” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2006, and means “to use the Google search engine to obtain information on the Internet.” — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google

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