Just downloaded Google Mobile, which was surprisingly easy to do from the fixed-line internet. Once downloaded it (takes five seconds) your internet searches on your phone default to its current location. Works brilliantly for me. I’m already planning my lunch.
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I’ve been thinking a lot about this essay by Tom Slee. He writes about how the very tools that help us navigate the web are the very things that drive everyone towards the same locations. He uses a useful topological analogy, stating that the recommender systems, like Digg and Netflix and Amazon, allow everyone to see the most popular material out there: “customers can see further,” he argues “but they are all looking at the same hilltop.”
“Online merchants such as Amazon, iTunes and Netflix may stock more items than your local book, CD, or video store, but they are no friend to “niche culture”. Internet sharing mechanisms such as YouTube and Google PageRank, which distill the clicks of millions of people into recommendations, may also be promoting an online monoculture. Even word of mouth recommendations such as blogging links may exert a homogenizing pressure and lead to an online culture that is less democratic and less equitable, than offline culture.”
The trouble he argues is that in staring at the peak we often miss material that is nearer to us.
But for me this paradox extends beyond recommender systems, reaching right into the heart of the internet itself. For what is a list of Google search results other than a mountain of indexed content with the first page or results representing the peak? The point being that although Google does try to weave a degree of immediacy into its search results, most people just bother to look at the summit of the search, ignoring the other material located further down the slope.
Of course nobody want to return to the days before Google made the mountain scalable in the first place. But we should be aware that the more successful it becomes the more monocultural the internet is likely to become. There may be more content out there, but increasingly most of us are seeing the same things which creates the opposite of diversity.
This monoculture of content then re-inforces itself as the material that finds its way to the top of Googles list and on to the likes of Digg and Facebook and Delicious et al, like successful football teams, the longer they stay at the top of the league, the more powerful and rich they become.
There are of course different ways to scale the mountain. Google’s advanced search option, for instance, allows you to filter your searches so that you can search for content uploaded only today, or only this week or only this month. Searching this way at least makes it easier to find content that is less established, but potentially more interesting.
I love its software and much of my life is in some way governed by it. But it has become so successful, so powerful, that its difficult to see over it. Maybe that’s why they set up office in hills northwest of San Francisco. In a little place called Mountain View.
Billy Bragg and Dave Rowntree (from Blur) will help launch the Featured Artists Coalition in London tomorrow (March 11).
Responding to Google’s decision to remove music videos from YouTube after an argument over fees with the Performance Rights Society (which represents the rights of artists), the pair wrote a joint call-to-arms over at the Guardian’s Comment is Free blog. They wrote:
“Whether we like it or not, the old business model is broken and the decline in sales … has not been helped by the determination of the big labels to protect themselves at the expense of both artists and fans. Record shops have disappeared from our high streets and the big labels may go the same way, passing into the hands of asset strippers whose only interest is the bottom line. Yet, there is still clearly an audience out there for good music, and plenty of young musicians hoping to find them.”
This is why we need to find our voice now – to ensure that the next generation of artists are able to earn a living in the new digital music industry that is busy being born.”
What about this for a New York skyline? It’s actually a composite of several images taken from thousands of that have been digitised and then arranged on the Google Earth application. Accourding to its blog Google has completed nearly every building in Manhattan Island for Google Earth. What’s more Google says it plans to extend the service across the world.
I don’t think so, but it could be changing the way we all think. Nicholas Carr, who is something of a Google-baiter, is more worried and has penned a thought-provoking essay on the subject over at The Atlantic. I knew he was on to something when, although i was deeply interested in the article, I felt like clicking away before finishing the third paragraph.
I resisted temptation and felt all the better for it.
Here’s a taste for those of you so deep in the throes of Google-induced stupor that you can’t get any further:
“The Net’s influence doesn’t end at the edges of a computer screen … As people’s minds become attuned to the crazy quilt of Internet media, traditional media have to adapt to the audience’s new expectations. Television programs add text crawls and pop-up ads, and magazines and newspapers shorten their articles, introduce capsule summaries, and crowd their pages with easy-to-browse info-snippets. When, in March of this year, The New York Times decided to devote the second and third pages of every edition to article abstracts, its design director, Tom Bodkin, explained that the “shortcuts” would give harried readers a quick “taste” of the day’s news, sparing them the “less efficient” method of actually turning the pages and reading the articles. Old media have little choice but to play by the new-media rules.
“Never has a communications system played so many roles in our lives—or exerted such broad influence over our thoughts—as the Internet does today. Yet, for all that’s been written about the Net, there’s been little consideration of how, exactly, it’s reprogramming us. The Net’s intellectual ethic remains obscure.”
Today’s Guardian Link, its special supplement given over to educational technology, has my lastest report on the growing number of UK schools and universities relying on Google to manage their IT needs. I talk to several schools in the UK who are already using Google to manage their staff and pupil email accounts, as well as their internal communications and other software. Google is providing its Google Apps for free to educational establishments and its probably coming to a school near you very soon.