3.00 FYI France: Ejournal and archive

by Jack Kessler, kessler@well.sf.ca.us

May 15, 2005 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on May 15, 2005.

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Versions of the following have appeared online regularly, since 1992, as a feature of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which is distributed for free via email every month except August. Ejournal subscriptions may be obtained via email request to: kessler@well.sf.ca.us

Here this file is one of a number made available -- hopefully attractively, all in one place, and relevant to libraries and online digital information work in France and Europe -- as part of FYI France (sm)(tm), an online service to which anyone can subscribe for 12 months by postal mailing a check for US $45, payable to Jack Kessler, to PO Box 460668, San Francisco, California, USA 94146 (site licenses also are available): please write your email address on the front of your check. And you can pay via PayPal, on the FYI France homepage:

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Please email suggestions for improvements to me at kessler@well.sf.ca.us
 

--oOo--
 

Google Inc., libraries digital & other

 

People interested in GooglePrint and Google Digital Libraries and GoogleScholar, and the many other exciting -- and/or threatening -- new "things Google", might be interested in the firm itself.

Who are these "Google" people? What do they look like? "Where" are they? And what do they say they are doing? "Ses identités, ses qualités..."

Particularly if you are a Google fan, or foe, residing physically far from California: someone in Montpellier in France, say, might wonder what this new bunch online with the strange-sounding name are like, "in person" -- someone in Sian in China might, too.

So I went down to Google last week, to their "first annual shareholders' meeting", to have a look: a look at Google's first formal in-person presentation to one of their most general publics, anyway -- for those of us still suspicious about the online world -- who still wonder whether a mere email address provides sufficient identification of a resource -- who worry about that now-elderly cartoon, "On the Internet nobody knows you're a dog."

 

People in Montpellier, and in Sian, first need to visualize a California Silicon Valley scene: warm-to-hot weather, and dry -- and tree-lined artificially-landscaped streets, setting off enormous car-parking lots, encircling low-rise and sprawling office buildings -- hundreds of them...

Google's head office is located in a vast landscape of such automobile-encircled buildings, one stretching now for many miles across the Greater San Jose "urbanization", a growing region steadily engulfing neighborhoods nearby... older and now-smaller neighborhoods, such as "Oakland", and "Berkeley", and yes "San Francisco"... and "Marin County", and "Sacramento", and "Stockton", and "Salinas"... Take a look at this urbanization, sometime -- via GoogleMaps, maybe, particularly their new satellite-photo view of it --

-- change can be awesome.

But urban sprawl is nothing unfamiliar, in most places now. Nor is the modern "industrial office park": they have those around Montpellier -- perhaps Sian has them too, or it will soon.

Google, though, is "different"...

I drove to the predictable enormous parking lot, "checked in" to attend the meeting, opted to walk rather than take the little busses so I could view the corporate campus "on approach".

The Google offices are installed in several enormous smoked-glass buildings, set amid sculpted parks and soccer areas and volleyball courts -- "The Googleplex", they call it... -- all of it impressive but, for someone already acquainted with Silicon Valley, still predictable. Silicon Graphics Corp., which built the buildings Google currently occupies, looked like this years ago, as did most other big Silicon Valley firms: no neckties -- youngish kids wearing jeans and sneakers, playing volleyball during caffeine-breaks -- everything so "casual" that one wondered how the work got done.

The difference offered by Google now, however, is inside the buildings. This was the firm's "first" such event, as I mentioned, and for the occasion they mounted a couple of dozen laptops on little tradeshow-style fixtures, each of these manned by a youthful and enthusiastic tee-shirted "demonstrator", who guided us not-so-youthful shareholders and venture capitalists and others through all of their latest "exciting stuff".

GooglePrint and GoogleScholar were shown, of course, and were excellently presented. So too were GoogleNews and Gmail and Picasa and Keyhole, and several more among the many new directions the company now is taking.

I was shown Orkut, a "Social Networking" system similar to Friendster: by invitation only, to preserve confidentiality, users reveal to one another their dreams and aspirations and innermost thoughts -- part jobsearch, part dating service, part 21st century solution for the angst of alienation -- they say over 6 million people now use Orkut, in over 100 countries.

And I saw GoogleVideo: Google's new appeal to all the world's videomakers -- not just Hollywood, then, as competitor Yahoo is attempting, but little people too -- to let the firm index and organize and advertise the existence of independent video efforts to the rest of the world.

6 million... and all the world's videomakers... "Who are these people at Google, doing this indexing and organizing?", I found myself asking, again...

 

Well, first of all, one no longer asks about "nationality", in California. That is a European habit, odd though this may sound to Europeans... "Nations" were invented in Europe, remember, and not so long ago... But nationality has become, somewhat like race and gender and age, one of a number of "suspect classifications", no longer considered "politically correct", if they are raised in a California conversation: one no longer asks "Where are you from?", as we did in the 1960s, or "Will the speaker be a man or a woman?", or, certainly, "How old is she?" or "What race is he?"

Judging just from those doing the demonstrating today, however, I would say the old questions even have become superfluous -- entirely irrelevant, to a GoogleWorld apparently populated by most of the human varieties possible on the planet. Yes, the people inside those GoogleBuildings all seem to be young, and of course very, very, bright -- two characteristics in common -- but they also appear to be, and they sound as though they are, very international, and with the genders and races as intermingled as one now sees, increasingly, in international business meetings and large international airports.

So is this a Google difference? Silicon Valley always has been an open and democratic place. Now-classic studies of the difference between the original Silicon Valley and its early competitors, and later imitators, always have pointed this out. [Dozens of such studies exist. The best I have read myself is that by Annalee Saxenian, Regional advantage : culture and competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128 (Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1994) ISBN 0674753399.]

But even compared to the Silicon Valley of a dozen years ago, the variety among the people, in the meeting, and walking around the corridors inside the place, appears to me to have increased greatly. The engineers used to be all one type, the secretaries another, the clean-up staff another still: but no longer -- at Google, anyway, it looks and sounds like it's all mixed together.

 

Back to the projects we were shown, then: does any greater human variety on the staff reflect itself in the work they do?

Take GoogleMaps, one of the more impressive recent innovations. They just have added wonderful maps of Canada and the UK, to the US maps which have been offered in this beta project for some time. For the UK version, the Google team has tried to adopt the "graphic feel" of the famous old "A to Z" maps, with which British people and all London visitors are so familiar.

Perhaps a resident anglophile could have suggested this. But the young "presenter" said their Sydney Australia team in fact insisted upon it: that and the crucial inclusion of "tubestops", names & locations, which Londoners use often to give directions. International input seems to have come in via that avenue, then: Australians, and Londoners, making "local" decisions, in this international company -- or is it trans-national?... "international" being only "among nations", the specialists now say, while "trans-national" transcends nationality...

Human language access, too, seems to transcend nationality now, at Google: well over 100 "Interface languages" are provided, from Afrikaans & Amharic to Xhosa & Zulu -- by way of Frisian, Macedonian, Tamil, Telugu -- also something called "Elmer Fudd" (try it! URL below...), and "Klingon", and "Pig Latin".

 

I attended the meeting, I admit, from a number of motivations. First of all, crucial to any "shareholder's meeting", was the food: and there Google outdid any others I have seen or heard of recently -- sumptuous outdoor buffet spread, on a beautiful sunny day, offering salads and delicious multiple entrees and fresh fruit, and really good cookies.

A second vital concern at "shareholders' meetings", then, is "monetization": investors always want to know whether they are funding a charity or a money-making enterprise... And in this narrow arena this firm of course was very reassuring: with their phenomenal recent financial results, plus all of the little "tags" they are putting on things now under development which will guarantee more income in the future. If you do business with Google you will pay: the lunch will be delicious, but it will not be free.

(The current impression, though, is that Google aims generally at "economies of scale" rather than at "price-gouging": at global markets rather than small local ones, many inexpensive units to many people rather than a few high-priced things to a wealthy few, low prices spread over a great many customers -- all good news to any long-term investor, then, and to customers.)

But the third reason for enjoying Google's fine lunch, today, was my personal attempt to try to figure out what the general direction of this varied group of Google people is going to be, and what their motivation really is -- and yes, of course, the latter is "the money", but it's not only that...

 

* Maybe it's convergence... "Convergence in Media" -- that long wished-for & worried-over dream/nightmare of so many, in libraryland and out in "The Matrix" and in several other quarters. For those of us still "stuck In the previous paradigm", like me, herewith a tentative roadmap:

Information resources (all of them...):

OldMedia NewMedia
"printed books"=> GooglePrint
"printed journals"=> GoogleScholar
"video, & movies (?)"=> GoogleVideo
"music"=> (hints of "under development")
"mobile"=> GoogleMobile
"meetings"=> GoogleGroups
"shopping"=> Froogle & GoogleLocal
"personal communication"=> Gmail & GoogleBlogger &
GoogleTranslate & GoogleGroups &
Orkut(?) & Dodgeball(?)...
digital "social networking"...
"reference librarians"=> GoogleSearch
"prints & photos"=> GoogleImages & Picasa
"maps"=> GoogleMaps & Keyhole
"the news"=> GoogleNews
(others?)=> (many more...)

 

-- but the revolutionary idea being, I think, not so much that there is a concordance between the two columns, as that the entries in the latter column all are being collapsed, now, by Google, into one... what the people at Google, and interface design and marketing people elsewhere, all increasingly call,

The Onebox

-- which is the one little data-entry box on that clean-and-simple whitespace Google homepage, where a single "commandline" (remember that?!) inquiry -- eventually in natural-language, even -- can retrieve,

The Onebox Result

-- consisting of literally any information on the known-item being sought, in any digital format currently carried by any "traditional" media, anyplace on the planet... plus eventually maybe even off-planet, if you count satellites and telescopes and Mars Rovers and Moon Colonies and other things like that...

 

What Google is aiming for, in other words -- in its CEO Eric Schmidt's words, at our meeting -- is to,

"Organize the world's [all of it] information [all of it]
so it will be universally [to everyone]
accessible [via all 'devices']
and useful..."

-- one-stop resource for information, then -- about anything, anywhere.

 

The vision, for the firm, appears still to come from founders Larry Page and Sergey Brinn, as many news articles now have reported, in increasing privacy-invading detail: both grad students at Stanford, Sergey the datamining guru and Larry the user interface wizard. Also some others, since the beginning --

Google already has Legends-in-the-making: such as that of Sue Wojcicki, who supposedly, "let Sergey and Larry store stuff in her garage", back in, "the very beginnings" -- so much in Silicon Valley seems to have begun in someone's borrowed garage! -- Sue always was a fan of books and libraries and now runs, among other things, the Google project to digitize them...

Or the story of Krishna Bharat, who -- again supposedly, as these are the stuff of legends now, as I said -- on "9/11" got frustrated, as did we all, with channel-flipping, as he tried to obtain a full picture on that disaster from multiple news sources -- only instead of just complaining of his headache, as the rest of us did that day, K. Bharat sat down at his screen and figured out how to comb all news resources and present them on a single manageable Webpage... which he now runs... GoogleNews...

And there is a Management Vision too, at Google, a firm already boasting 3000+ employees and running famous job-recruiting contests, worldwide, which doubtless will multiply that total now with the addition of many bright new minds. To develop all that, and keep it motivated, Google offers "70/20/10": 70% of an employee's work is on "Core" projects, involving webcrawling and ranking and information search & retrieval -- 20% is on "Related" applications such as GoogleNews and Gmail -- but then 10% is mandated to be simply "Exploratory" -- which of course is where the fun, and the competitive advantage, come in...

(I couldn't help thinking, as I heard all this, of standards and standardization: of the open-source software and techniques, and society, which created the synergies which launched the earlier Silicon Valley hitech revolution... [See Saxenian, cited above, and many others.] Google is testing and deciding, now, how many dots per inch and what type of scanning device and how many news sources per webpage, and all sorts of other "standards", for the tasks they are undertaking. I hope Google will see their way clear to adopting an "open systems" approach, eventually: releasing source code and sharing techniques and ideas and developing things in partnership with other firms -- all that they are doing is still only a very small slice of a very large pie, as used to be said in Silicon Valley, and the building of a critical mass really able to develop it all, to the mutual benefit of all, will be the work of many firms, not just one.)

 

So, does all this reassure a worried rare books librarian, concerned that the precious objects in her collection might be damaged by hamfisted "scanning" handling? Or does it satisfy a librarian in France, upset that "The Scarlet Pimpernel" might come in ranked higher, on a Google retrieval, than Michelet or Lefebvre, Guizot or Furet? Well, no -- no such guarantees -- no way...

But does it inform, and does it broaden the debate, regarding the motivations involved in various efforts? Also the role in them, or lack thereof, of traditional notions such as "nationalism"?

Is the world ready, yet, in a word, for the truly "trans-national" corporation? --

-- well, they've been talked about, for a very long time --

-- and they have been feared for even longer --

-- but maybe Google is in fact the new beast which has slouched toward our Silicon Valley digital revolution Bethlehem and at last been born... Think of all of these trans-national kids, all mixed in together, and of the overseas workgroups which Google is sprouting, now, all interacting digitally / seamlessly, 24/7 around-the-globe, and all innocent of traditional "nationality" & "race stereotypes" & "gender roles", & "authorities"... just as they are in their online global video gaming... Perhaps Michelet & Guizot have better chances, against the Baroness Orczy, with this new and young crew, than they would have with any others?

 

* And maybe all this runs even broader and deeper than that...

On my way back from the Google meeting, a local US radio host was discussing "all this new stuff". The guy has two daughters, ages 15 & 17, so he figures he is "on the front lines", in everything regarding the new Society or Anti-Society or whatever it is which we all are piecing together now: he vigorously defends videogames & flipfones & television "reality shows" -- perhaps because he truly believes in them, or perhaps just to keep the peace in his own home, I don't really know.

He, or maybe it was his guest, observed, "You know, things aren't really getting better, or worse, they're just changing..."

So that is what it is, perhaps: not really a digital information era which is better, than that of the previous era of print, or one that is worse, but simply one that is different -- with attendant advantages and disadvantages -- also a different "trans-national" world, than the one of "nationalism" which, like "print culture", we inherited from our parents and grandparents, again with attendant advantages and disadvantages.

A few things about the new situation may be said for sure, at least: there will be more to life in it, initially anyway, than simply the, "ses indentités, ses qualités", of Established and Older and more tired eras -- more than there was before, anyway.

And we will have meetings which involve a few people, and Webcasts, and great cookies...

 

I just wish I could have met the GoogleDesigner who does the "holiday" logos: the guy is wonderful --

-- and be sure to try,

 

--oOo--

 

--hjlm--

 

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Last update: July 16, 2008