Will Google destroy the internet?


11 April 2006

What is the biggest threat to the internet as a source of information exchange? The music industry dinosaurs that are stuck in copyright hell? The control freaks in the telecommunications industry that wants to end net neutrality? Google?

Google with its “do no evil” policy is an internet darling and by creating a vastly superior search engine has arguably done more than most to make the internet a useful information source.

However, Google does not make content. Its usefulness comes from a bargain with the content producers: we will steal your copy but provide you traffic in return. That bargain may now be changing.

Google has acquired the rights to the Orion search engine created by Ori Allon of the University of New South Wales. What is new is, in the words of Ori, that the search engine will be “giving you the relevant information without [you] having to go to the web site”. Think of the current web page extracts Google already provide with their search results, but on steroids so they provide all the information you need right there on the search page.

This is new. I can see two possible outcomes. In one, the content providers are unable to create an online revenue stream and therefore move offline. Time to buy more stock in paper companies (and settle for a massive global economic slowdown). In the other, we see the creation of several disconnected “walled gardens” of online content, as content providers only share their information with meta-content provides who are willing to share their revenues.

I am away from my library so I can’t find the reference, but I am reminded of a science fiction sort story. In it, humans are reaching the limits of new knowledge. However, there is a rapid and sustained growth in knowledge about knowledge (K2), knowledge about knowledge about knowledge (K3) etc., until the entire human civilization collapses under the weight of data like a deck of index cards. Could Google (and Yahoo and Microsoft, the other bidders for the technology) be the beginning of the end for Homo sapiens sapiens?

2023 update: Found it

The story is MS Fnd in a Lbry by Hal Draper.