Григорий Громов (abcdefgh) wrote,
Григорий Громов

Google's Two Revolutions

By Steven Levy, Newsweek - Dec. 27 / Jan. 3

If it weren't for the war, and the terrorism and the election, 2004 might well be remembered as the Year of Search. Maybe it will anyway. If we get through these rocky times with civilization's underpinnings intact, our descendants, swimming in total information, might be required to memorize the date of last August's Google IPO as a cultural milestone. Except that in the post-Google era, memorization will be obsolete, because even the most obscure fact will be instantly retrievable...

Google's announcement last week that it will integrate libraries into its indexes: parts or all of the collections of Harvard, Oxford, Stanford, the University of Michigan and the New York Public Library. Google cofounder Larry Page says that he and his partner Sergey Brin had been exposed to the digital-library idea when both were Stanford students but "we didn't think that this could be done in our lifetime." Now it can, and at a more-than-reasonable price tag. After all, at an estimated $10 a volume, the cost of digitizing the 15 million books in some of the world's great libraries tallies to less than that of financing the movie "Van Helsing." This covers only printed books, but Page is already excitedly talking about research papers' dealing with the task of digitizing handwritten manuscripts...

As if that isn't enough, there is that second revolution I mentioned. It involves Google's success in transforming this informational bounty into an amazingly profitable enterprise. It's based on the very reasonable premise that ads are most effective when pegged to what you want to know, as opposed to what you want to watch. (To be fair, a company called Overture, now owned by Yahoo, also pioneered this idea.) This works not only with search results but with many fertile areas that have previously been ad-free zones. Like e-mail: Google serves ads pegged to the content of your messages in its Gmail service. Google figures that this model can eventually work with the files on your own computer. Or with the contents of libraries. Which is fine with the administrators who signed the deal with Google last week. "What could be better for the missions of the great academic institutions of the world than to have a public that really wants to look at our stuff?" says University of Michigan provost Paul Courant.

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