April 6, 2004
The Age of Google
Follow the links in this chain:
Google announces a free e-mail service on April 1. And the joke is, it’s not a joke.
How can Google give everybody a free gigabyte? Easy — a side-effect of having the world’s biggest, coolest search engine is that you have the world’s biggest, coolest computer. Rich Skrenta expounds:
Google is a company that has built a single very large, custom computer. It’s running their own cluster operating system. They make their big computer even bigger and faster each month, while lowering the cost of CPU cycles. It’s looking more like a general purpose platform than a cluster optimized for a single application.
While competitors are targeting the individual applications Google has deployed, Google is building a massive, general purpose computing platform for web-scale programming.
This computer is running the world’s top search engine, a social networking service, a shopping price comparison engine, a new email service, and a local search/yellow pages engine. What will they do next with the world’s biggest computer and most advanced operating system?
But what good is a huge general-purpose computer without general data to purposefully process? Google has that, too. Jason Kottke writes:
So. They have this huge map of the Web and are aware of how people move around in the virtual space it represents. They have the perfect place to store this map (one of the world’s largest computers that’s all but incapable of crashing). And they are clever at reading this map. Google knows what people write about, what they search for, what they shop for, they know who wants to advertise and how effective those advertisements are, and they’re about to know how we communicate with friends and loved ones. What can they do with all that? Just about anything that collection of Ph.Ds can dream up.(His version has all sorts of links and stuff. Check it out.)
And then Kottke, looking forward, asks: “Who needs Windows when anyone can have free unlimited access to the world’s fastest computer running the smartest operating system?”
Famously, one of Google’s central corporate directives is “Don’t be evil.” Can a world-spanning ultra-computer that knows all and tells all stick to that credo? Or might computational power corrupt the same way that political power does?
And what about a positive corollary to that rule: “Do good”? Can the power of a Google-sized computer help us solve our real problems?
(Shout-out to Penny for all the links.)