Don’t be Evil (and other hopes for the future)

March 7, 2006

This is not ostensibly a post about Google. It is in part however, inspired by Google and their far-reaching motto, as well as their well publicized aim of 'indexing the world's information'. A while back I wrote about Wikipedia and the controversy over the inaccuracies inherent in such a system. What people seemed to be missing about the whole story was that the point was not that the authors of the article had posted lies or unsubstantiated facts, but rather that such stories and facts would have been posted regardless, whether Wikipedia had existed or not. Wikipedia, merely provides a common forum for all the random web pages that had sprung up over the past decade of growing internet usage, giving people a common repository for ideas and knowledge that inhabited 'net.

The sheer vastness of the web defies the perusal of a single overseeing body; no gatekeeper exists for the 'net, and nor should they. But accessing and tapping into the fragments of truth that are scattered across the internet is the defining challenge for the next decade, and without success in that sphere, the internet will remain unable to realize the immense potential that its size and scale represent. Wikipedia is merely one such attempt. It acknowledges that the knowledge of the world does not (indeed, cannot) come from a single source. Like the fictional Encyclopedia Galactica in Douglas Adams' satirical novel, any source claiming such omniscience will be relegated to ridicule and obscurity. The comparison mentioned in my previous post between Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica help underline this simple fact, and convinces me that the face of the internet must change to closer align to this approach.

Google, in part, is attempting something like this: a single point of access for all the information in the world. But if fails in several key ways, most significantly, its poor browsing interface. Google, in all its various forms be it Video, Image, or Document searching, remains only a search platform. Once the searches have been completed it appears somewhat confused and unsure what to do with the results. Thus its interface, which begins with such startling simplicity, becomes uncertain and inefficient.

This is where the importance of the "social" aspects of the internet comes in. It seems to be rearing its elegant head nearly everywhere you look, and for good reason. What flickr, del.ico.us and other such services quickly realized was that much like the information services of Wikipedia, no single source could form a coherent and complete documentation and classification of a large amount of data. So the collective mind, the "community" that appears to be the core of the Web 2.0 revolution, is far more capable of undertaking this task that defies a solitary company such as Google. A combination of Google's search capabilities with its access to vast amounts of information, and the community's involvement in its organization is the key to a more usable and ultimately useful internet.

However this is merely a single view of how the future of the internet can be shaped. Another, far more ominous outlook appears to gathering greater attention and support, especially among the large companies that have of late been left out of the growing internet economy. This includes the telecom and cable giants that are our access points into the vast world wide web, but have little control over what we do beyond this point. And that is something they just can not stand for.

This has been gathering more and more attention recently (via Digg), especially after the announcements by Yahoo and AOL that they would begin a new paid service for 'priority' mail that would be 'guaranteed'… whatever that is supposed to mean. Silly me, thinking that current emails are already guaranteed to arrive where I send them. What, is there only like a 70-80% chance that when I press that 'send' button, my email will reach its destination?

Anyway the point is that when we really get down to it, we as consumers, have very little say in such things, and it seems obvious that the pure internet companies such as Amazon and Yahoo, that are currently against this 'other' form of internet, will eventually change sides once they are given a slice of the oh-so-sweet money pie. And so this is a call to all you people, consumers, workers, companies… please, Don't Be Evil! Let there exist an open forum for the world community to thrive together, communicating at a level unimaginable before, with a freedom that is unprecedented. We stand at a precipice; we can fall into the age old trap of bottom-line profit thinking, and let the floodgates of corporate ownership and control into the sacrosanct world of our internet, or stand together, strong and resolute, shouting – "We will not stand for it!" The decision, ultimately, is ours and ours alone.

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One Response to “Don’t be Evil (and other hopes for the future)”

  1. Florian Says:

    Hi,
    I found your blog via google by accident and have to admit that youve a really interesting blog 🙂
    Just saved your feed in my reader, have a nice day 🙂


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