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Google: The Perils of Being Ahead

Cross-posted to infojunkies, futuretech, and the AI community tessier_ashpool.

SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 23 - For years, Silicon Valley hungered for a company mighty enough to best Microsoft. Now it has one such contender: the phenomenally successful Google.
( Source: Gary Rivlin for New York Times )

SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 26 - Silicon Valley sources quoted by Rivlin compare Google's ruthless and paranoid culture today with the Microsoft of old, bemoan its influence on the recuitment market, and note the reluctance of VCs to fund bright startups which might find themselves competing with Google. All of which is true - but true enough to make the comparison stand?
Microsoft earned its status as a [convicted] monopolist in the US courts by exerting exclusionary tactics in several ways, both economic and technological. It locked down its distribution channels, for example, by insisting computer makers pay for a MS DOS license whether they shipped the OS with the system or not. The company sabotaged rivals, notably the DR-DOS and OS/2 for Windows products, by ensuring they weren't fully compatible with its products.

Another Microsoft tactic, of setting de facto standards to favor itself, is one that Google could well deploy, particularly through its recently-revived Web Accelerator plan. But to date there's no sign of it overstepping the boundary. So the only sensible judgement that Google is the new Microsoft would be "not proven".

However, passions run high. It's easy to forget that Microsoft hasn't killed babies or poisoned the water supply, and that Google hasn't saved lives or invented telepathy. People need their archetypes, and let's explore the context which creates such heroes and villains.

( Source: Andrew Orlowski for The Register )

The Register ran the second article by Andrew Orlowski of its San Francisco office, titled "Google as Microsoft", on August 26th. In it, Orlowski critically reviews Gary Rivlin's New York Times article of August 24th: "Relax, Bill Gates; It's Google's Turn as the Villain".

The Register article traces Microsoft's rise to OS hegemony during the Thatcher-Reagan era of the early 1980s and its parallels in Google's rise to prominence as king of the search engine hill. It also outlines some of the privacy issues that make Google's practices a bit unnerving to some. "I hope Google doesn't become Microsoft" is a commonly heard remark in the IT industry. High potential for profits and market domination, reason some analysts, entails potential for the kind of practices that got Microsoft into legal trouble five years ago.

It's a short leap to the panopticon for the privacy watch folks. Peter Norvig, Google's director of search quality and author of the leading AI textbook, Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach, gave an invited talk at a recent AI conference (Uncertainty in AI 2005) titled "What to Do With All of the World's Information". "Of course, we don't have all of the world's information... yet," he quipped.

As for retaining its position as the king of search, Google faces some fights of its own, including a fierce competition over the desktop search applications market and the legal battle over its new hire, departed Microsoft VP Kai-Fu Lee.

Other sources:
( O'ReillyNet | Slashdot | CNet )

In other news:



( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 28th, 2005 10:57 pm (UTC)
Privacy and search engines
Wired News has a privacy column. Also, there is the privacy advocacy site Privacy.org.

I agree that privacy needs to be a big concern for Google, and that moreover it has to practice some restraint in building and maintaining the world's greatest repository of information. In particular, people need to feel that it is their choice. We need to have a service that gives us convenient access to information for free, dissemination and archival of information cheaply, and advertising at a fair, low price. Conversely, people need to feel safe from prying eyes, or at least have some input into controlling information flow before that right is taken away by default.

Personally, I've studied Google's privacy policy (there's the link, BTW) and I think that it is reasonable, but people sometimes don't know exactly what they are opting into or out of by putting up a web site. I don't agree with privacy advocates who feel that crawling should not be done by default, but I also believe that authors should always retain the right of first refusal: that it should be easy to put up content that is protected, and to restrict information flow as one wishes.

Aug. 28th, 2005 11:46 pm (UTC)
Re: Home Google &c
What do you think happens to your gmail? ;)
Aug. 29th, 2005 06:07 pm (UTC)
Very apropos icon
*data mines your heead*

Aug. 29th, 2005 02:39 am (UTC)
Re: Home Google &c
Lauren Weinstein of PFIR has been very critical of Google's privacy policies.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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