10.2006b FYI France Essay :

 

Googliamus!

by Jack Kessler, kessler@well.com

(For Histoires Littéraires,
translated into French & published in the HL 25 (2006-1) issue, page 141, as,
"Chronique de l'arobase : L'Affaire Google"
http://www.histoires-litteraires.org/somcomp25.htm
TOC below.)

-- August 15, 2005
-- San Francisco

 

"Google" means so many things -- too many -- in the excitement over it, and in the Googlization debates now raging, both on the Internet and off.

To some, Google is a technology, to others it is an investment, to still others it is a group of bright and talented and painfully-young engineers. To some academics interested in its technique Google is an approach, or several, to the organization and dissemination of information. To others in academe and elsewhere it is the great promise of digital texts, or the threat thereof. To the business world Google is a marketing strategy, a "brand", a "frame"... business poets look to it as the phoenix arising from the Dotcom Bubble ashes, business cynics see it as a new and even bigger bubble... Google also is a corporation, but then such a category itself may be divided: is it a private or a public corporation -- is it American or French or both, or international, or might it be even a new-fangled "trans-national" corporation... -- is it a localized thing, with "local" characteristics, or is it something new and something very "global"?

And Google tends to be viewed by each of us from the angle most personally familiar: if we are technologists we think of it as technology, if our interest is information science we think of it as that, if we are financiers we think of its investment implications: "The stock opened at 75, went to 175, now is at 300 and still is going up!"... If we are sociologists we see behavior, and we worry over structural employment changes due to Google. If we are lawyers, we think of categories, and regulation, and copyright, and fees. Any new idea like Google illustrates the axiom, "if your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail": we each tend to see newness as an instance of something we already know, and each of us knows different things.

So the Google sound and fury is multi-faceted. I have been as confused by it as anyone else, noticing the name and the excitement cropping up in so many different readings and activities and conversations, and I have wondered what the thing is. So I decided to visit: the Google corporate headquarters is located not far from my San Francisco home -- I went down there and had a look --

 
Contents
1) "1600 Amphitheatre Parkway", one view of Google
2) "The Matrix", another view of Google
3) "Location, location, location" -- not
4) "Le Défi Américain redux", a view from afar, from France
5) "Preservation and Access", a view from libraries
6) Which view is correct? Statics...
7) Which view is correct? Dynamics...
8) A few fundamental questions, before any conclusions
9) In conclusion, so far...
(Notes)

 

1) "1600 Amphitheatre Parkway", one view of Google

The trek from San Francisco to the Silicon Valley is best made by car, down Highway 280, self-proclaimed "The World's Most Beautiful Freeway", per a small sign posted at the beginning of its route. This enormous road, stretching ten lanes across, soars through wooded and be-mansioned hills in back of Stanford University, alongside beautiful lakes: vistas to the west soar to mountains high enough to receive snow in winter, while the east offers magnificent views down over San Francisco Bay.

When I was very young my grandparents used to take me down to the valleys south of Stanford on weekends, to buy apricots and almonds from the little farms, near the villages which lined the railroad line on its way south from San Francisco. It was all tiny dusty roads and little pickup trucks, back then. As the technological fortunes of the "Silly Valley" have prospered, though, the traffic has prospered with it. Nowadays Highway 280 traffic is massive -- and continuous, 24/7, with monumental snarlups during rush hours -- and increasingly it is composed of giant SUVs, and flashy latest-model luxury sedans, all moving at speeds well above the posted legal limits. A few forlorn police cars patrol the route, pulling over first this Ferrari in the southbound lanes, then that BMW in the northbound, for a scolding and a citation, and a small fine which the officers know will easily be paid and ignored.

It's the daily Silicon Valley scene, now: the beautiful mountains gaze down upon all this frantic activity, and further below there is the beautiful bay... Already there is a sense of wonder, and unreality, emanating from this commute: few business journeys-to-work anywhere in the world look like this.

Then the turnoff to Google arrives: coming down from the Highway 280 heights, zeroing in a little further on the destination -- just like double-clicking on the little luminescent globe in GoogleEarth 1, and "zooming in" -- this leads to a broad and tree-lined avenue known as "Amphitheatre Parkway".

People in Limoges, or in Shanghai or Ouagadougou or Milton Keynes, need first to understand that California is a place where streets routinely are given names like, "The Avenue of the Stars", and where addresses may be classified in groups following some functional or inspirational definition: "Rome Street", then next to that "Athens Street", then "Sparta", "Syracuse" -- or "Yale" Avenue, then "Harvard", "Stanford", "Oxford". Only a century and a half ago there literally was no "here", here in California: the Native Americans who inhabited the place, back then, would recognize nothing of it today. And Silicon Valley is representative, as all of California has grown artificially: it once was arid, a desert -- and it all has grown up very quickly.

Foreigners need to visualize these artificially-landscaped avenues, such as Amphitheatre Parkway, and enormous car-parking lots for all those Highway 280 SUVs and luxury vehicles, and low-rise dark-windowed air-conditioned office buildings: thousands of these, stretching as far as the eye can see even from an airplane -- in fact try this, on GoogleEarth, it's all that impressive sprawl spreading south toward the new regional center at San José, a place much larger now than San Francisco -- all of it bathed most of the year in bright sun and intense heat, so casual clothing and sunglasses are the uniform.

Google inhabits one of those office buildings: a giant complex of them, in fact -- a campus, in the academic parlance which so many of these young entrepreneurs carry directly from their Stanford and other graduate programs to their workplace -- Google's grounds could be a small college, with its large commons meeting spaces and tiny work cubicles and vast lawns, all jumbled together.

But to get in to Google one has to approach gently and carefully -- again just like backing off before "zooming" in to it, helicopter-like, on GoogleEarth. The event formally drawing me was the first shareholders' meeting: in a madness moment I had joined the global throng which snapped up Google's offering of its shares to the general public, and I had bought a few -- not at the famous IPO auction, but just a little later. For this occasion we the general public were to leave our cars, luxury and other, in one of the great parking arenas at the Amphitheatre: indeed there is an amphitheatre, on "Amphitheatre Parkway" -- one renowned for its rock music concerts, and so in our brave new Infotainment world located very logically here in Silicon Valley's heart. From the parking lots we were to be bussed, the several hundred yards to Google, but it being a beautiful day I opted to walk, so I could get a better view "on approach".

There were the inevitable California lawns, then beautiful landscaping with its sculpted water features, then soccer and volleyball and other recreation-break amenities, and finally the omnipresent polite & young & clipped & smiling security guards, each exhibiting the athletic bounce and distracted bearing ("scanning... busy...") and sunglasses, and wonderfully-robotic-looking plastic earpiece, popularized by the White House security detail plus many television shows. "Good morning, sir, may I help you, sir?... Right this way, sir...": and I went, feeling like a fossil, where I had been instructed to go.

Again, the unreality, just like the extraordinary Highway 280 approach: the place, and the people now, all clipped and clean and, superficially at least, attractive and friendly -- and very, very, efficient.

It was a shareholders' meeting, as I said. The exhibits in this case were extraordinary, this being Google, but then all of the Google projects can be seen by anyone, and be seen best and even played with, online 2. The "suits" were introduced: always interesting to see the financiers who are the driving force behind modern hitech -- the outstanding leader among them, John Doerr, took his bow -- again a sense of unreality, as this sort of Venture Capital finance is so unknown in most regulated economies. Very few "wetware" human beings in fact were in real physical attendance: perhaps 50 actual shareholders, most of us there for the fine luncheon served, plus 150 or so financiers and corporate types, and the two genius-founders, and various employees who wandered in and out. The event was being Webcast, though, to no one-knew-how-many millions, all over the planet... So attention was focused on the cameras... "virtual" attendance...

Yet again, that sense of unreality, or perhaps of hyper-reality, or at least of some different reality... but no sense of the immediate, which was more about the wonderful chocolate-chip cookies being served outside on the patio -- "best cookies in The [Silicon] Valley", someone out there told me.

I wandered through the buildings for a bit, looking for the restroom, and then for a telephone -- the telephone qua artifact is disappearing, now, in Silicon Valley as in so many other places, as everyone increasingly becomes personally tagged with their tiny & color-coordinated & GPS-enabled flipfones -- more folks at California meetings talk on those than talk with one another. Throughout my little walk Google security droned along after me, politely and unobtrusively -- I was an "owner", after all... -- but persistently, in the many little hidden cameras evidenced by the sweet-voiced security people who would materialize mysteriously from the far sides of corners, wherever I happened to be headed. Eventually this frighteningly-efficient system very smoothly shepherded me to the front door, from which I knew there was no return inside to be had; so then, brazenly flaunting my temporary shareholder's pass, one last time -- morituri te salutamus -- I doubled back inside, through the corridors again, and feeling a mild sense of "escape" I finally walked out through the garden and returned on foot to my car and went home.

Google in fact is a wonderful place, at "1600 Amphitheatre Parkway": great cookies, nice landscaping, polite people, and real talent doing really great work. But it is not the only picture, I know, of Google...

 

2) "The Matrix", another view of Google

Long ago, now, the writer William Gibson first distinguished "The Matrix" from the physical reality which we all inhabit: in Gibson's writing the Matrix was a digital world, composed entirely of bits and bytes, in which the restrictions of our less-than-perfect physical world could be eliminated, or at least re-designed to our own choosing, with sinister results. At the time -- this was in Gibson's 1984 book Neuromancer3, written long before most of the world even had heard of the Internet -- the idea was considered preposterous, and immediately was classified "science fiction", by marketing-minded publishers and booksellers, and by careful librarians. Initially only budding computer scientists read it.

But those computer scientists grew up to develop the Internet, in many cases based upon early school readings of Gibson's 1984 book, and it is on the Internet nowadays that users primarily see and learn about Google: digital information users in France, and in China, and users in the US, and increasingly users everywhere on the planet. So it seems that Gibson's "Matrix" is with us, now: most of what we know, today -- of Google, anyway -- is what we see online.

And "there", very interestingly for those new to the impassioned GoogleDebates, there is not very much to see. The design of Google, online, is simple and sparse and very, very, friendly. The first view one obtains -- fiddling with one's own computer, or peering over the shoulder of another -- is a screen of white space, with a cute little graphic bearing a funny name at the top, and a single line beckoning you, inviting your input. Beneath that, then -- beyond a very few un-threatening and even inviting keywords such as "Images" and "News" and "Groups" and "Froogle" -- also lies the simple little earth-shattering statement, "Searching 8,058,044,651 web pages"... Google, graphically, is all about understatement, and hyperbole -- and all numbers are enormous, on Google.

Simplicity and Friendliness and Universality4: Google, online, presents three of the great dreams of any Internaut -- three dreams which have motivated much in world culture and civilization, in fact --

  • Simplicity. Unlike nearly all other webpages on the busy Internet, now, Google's online presence is simple: the cluttered pages of its competitors, and of most among the other digital services which rapidly are becoming necessities of daily life for so many, give headaches -- Google's immediate appeal is that it appears to be "simple", thus also "clean"... and, even, "easy"...

  • Friendliness. The byword in all information work, from the "user-friendly" of the digital world to the "library service" of the older print universe... the sheer intimidation, of the enormous corpus of the world's knowledge and the immense complexities of finding and using any particular part of it, is to be overcome by friendly professionalism, that of the user-oriented librarian or of the user-friendly digital interface...

  • Universality. Long the third great Information fantasy... from the "universal bibliography" which motivated so many of the great library catalogs and other knowledge compendia of history, to the "universal language" to which fans of Latin and Esperanto and any other "lingua franca" have devoted so much effort, to the "encyclopedic knowledge" which Diderot and now some on the Internet so treasure.

Google offers all three, Simplicity & Friendliness & Universality, to all users, in reaching and organizing and using digital information, at any time of any day or night, anywhere on the planet... and beyond... Such, anyway, is the view of Google on the Matrix. This was just a dream and simply one more unrealistic view of reality, mere science fiction, until the Internet "went public" in 1992-3. Now it is a commonplace. Prior to that time even the Internet had been a mere academic testbed, guarded jealously by its US governmental National Science Foundation sponsors, and insulated all 'round by "acceptable use policies"... "no public access", "no commercial use"... all of that gone, now, gone utterly...

 

3) "Location, location, location" -- not

So Google is, in fact, a growing team of talented engineers -- and designers and researchers and marketing & development personnel and Venture Capitalists, and lots of other people -- people with real, as opposed to virtual, lives, who inhabit physical places, and go to work, sometimes, in real office buildings... when they are not "telecommuting" from home or from some wi-fi cybercafé somewhere.

The physical presence is in some ways as impressive as the virtual, for Google. The creation myth is by now well-known: two very young and exceptionally-bright engineering students, experimenting with datamining and with interface design in their PhD program at Stanford, came up with a new way of plowing through the information overload of the Internet -- or of any large database -- to obtain more "relevant" information retrievals. The original insight was to rank the retrievals by their popularity, using information gathered from Internet protocols about how many other sites linked to that item, so that the most-used items floated up to the top of the retrieval heap.

And it all happened in a Palo Alto garage: per the deathless Silicon Valley legend of Hewlett and Packard, who also started-up their own giant firm in a garage there. And then the famous American Venture Capital industry landed upon the two young entrepreneurs, and a giant corporation was born. From two employees to over 40005, quickly, then fancy Silicon Valley buildings, and overseas offices, and stock values which shot from below $100 to over $300 in a short time, suddenly making people very rich.

But this physical view of Google, unlike the online Matrix view, is one that is very strange to most societies. Not that it isn't desired, in many. Most people, anywhere, can imagine greater Simplicity & Friendliness & Universality in their own local contexts. It is possible to achieve such things in France, or in China, or in Mozambique or Ecuador. Not so, however, or not necessarily, the more physical achievements of constructing a giant corporation, and enormous capital financing, and instant wealth overnight, and digital engineering genius and Global Reach -- and in many places on the planet such goals are not even desired, not even valued... And the debate about them becomes intermeshed, with the evaluation of their end-product, which is the Simplicity and Friendliness and Universality of the various Google services online.

So the Google story is somewhat that of the balancing of these two views, physical and virtual, of the phenomenon: the little group of people, getting larger, in the corporate buildings which happen to be located at "1600 Amphitheatre Parkway" in Silicon Valley and increasingly in other places around the globe -- as versus the online presence, also called "Google", which is working wonders for so many Internet users out somewhere in Cyberspace, on the Internet, enmeshed in William Gibson's enormous and ethereal Matrix. The one seems to have so little to do with the other, at times.

 

4) "Le Défi Américain redux", a view of Google from afar, from France

But a Manichean balancing of only two options is difficult, and can be simplistic. One strategy in addition, then, in appraising anything in hitech, is to view it from afar, comparatively. The problem posed by the "if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail" conundrum is not limited to technology: anything cultural can benefit from comparison. In addition to its "physical" and "Matrix" presences, then, we also might try viewing Google from France.

Much can be learned, in the general marketing effort and culturally, from our friends. The English, of course, are friends with the American inventors of the Internet, but there is a proximity problem there, in assessing a new language-based technology. The real challenge for the Americans is to reach someone Chinese, or African. And so seeing how the French do it, in their language so similar to but not identical with American English -- and given the great cultural differences which exist, despite such similarities -- can be helpful to the overall internationalizing effort.

It is interesting, then, that in fact the loudest, and most complicated, controversy to have greeted Google so far has surfaced in France. This was a reaction to an imaginative and much-needed Google project: the digitizing of major library collections, so that the fulltexts might be seen online, on the Internet. Google volunteered to pay, and to provide scanning and indexing and retrieval technology, and several great libraries responded avidly, and all this was announced proudly online and to the press.

And the French screamed. Not just "the French", but one of the most notable and capable luminaries in the French librarianship hierarchy, the current président of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the writer and historian Jean-Noël Jeanneney6. In a powerful appeal, published in Le Monde on January 24, 20057, Jeanneney protested against the Google fulltext digitization project: not against all of Google, necessarily -- his initial piece worried principally about the effect of the specific Google digital library project upon his own institution, and his culture.

Jeanneney acknowledges that Google now is "the leading search engine in guiding Internet users through the immensity of the Web", and he praises the "Messianic dream defined at the end of the last century: all the knowledge of the world freely accessible throughout the entire planet". But he also has "heavy concerns", he says: not so much that libraries will be emptied or that librarians will lose jobs, he declares tongue-in-cheek -- he is certain that information overload always will require library service of some sort. But, "a crushing domination by the USA, in the definition of the idea which future generations will have of the world", does worry him, Jeanneney declares, "any undertaking of this type demands drastic choices, given the immense possibilities."

Umberto Eco similarly declared, long ago -- back when the French first were planning the great move of the Bibliothèque Nationale printed books, from their old rue Richelieu site to their new premises at Tolbiac -- "the issue which gives me the greatest anxiety of my life: the conservation of books. When I pick up a Gallimard from the 1950s, I have the impression of having in my hands a lamb being burned as a sacrifice... Who, what authority will decide which books to retain? Plato and Dante have known their periods of disgrace, although they have been able to transcend the centuries...8.

Both men are writers, Eco and Jeanneney, whatever the several additional occupations of each. The point being an eminently literary and cultural one: that is the "threat", express and implied, of "Googlization" -- that, were the product or service of any single culture to become the conduit for all the others, it instead might become a bottleneck, and even a filter.

Jeanneney makes the point pungently,

    "I remember well my experience during the Bicentenary celebrations of our Revolution, in 1989, when I was in charge of certain events. It was deleterious and lamentable for the equilibrium of the nation, for the image and the understanding that she had of herself, her past, the events enlightening or somber which we then were commemorating, to go search in the only available databases, English or American, among descriptions and interpretations which were biased in many ways: 'The Scarlet Pimpernel' crushing '93', the valiant British aristocrats triumphing over the bloody Jacobins, the guillotine obscuring the Rights of Man and the brilliant ideas of the Convention."

Jeanneney worries, too, about the consigning of things cultural to profit-making corporations,

    "It is by relying upon public funds that one guarantees to citizens and researchers -- drawing their necessary moneys as contributors themselves and not as consumers -- a protection against the perverse effects of research done for a profit motive but hidden behind a mere appearance of disinterest."

And he worries that said corporations always seem, nowadays, to be "Américain". But, as he is a writer himself, it seems that the spectre of "'The Scarlet Pimpernel' crushing '93'" might be Jeanneney's greatest concern. Certainly non-French libraries, such as those involved in Google's project so far, contain plenty of "French" books -- the point is made, often, by Jeanneney's interlocutors in the GoogleDebates -- but none so many as his own does, the BnF, and none know theirs as well as his own people do, and certainly not in the same way.

This proposition may be tested easily. For example, consider famous accounts of the Napoleonic period written by different authors: Alfred Cobban, offering much about the English role, plus culture-bound asides such as, "from 1809 onwards, Napoleon, with the weakness of a new man for real gentlemen, tended to appoint former nobles to office"9 -- as versus Dominique de Villepin, offering far less about the English, and much about the political sophistication of his favorite childhood hero, and the severe political difficulties in the latter's task of reconciling with the French establishment -- which, the Frenchman Villepin feels, explains and excuses Napoleon's having appointed noblemen to office.10

And such "cultural" differences might be multiplied endlessly, to include not only the texts but even their indexation, in library catalogs, and their relative presence or absence in different library collections, and hence their selection from same for "digitization projects". Important differences of interpretation and nuance also crop up as much within cultures, as they do across them: consider Georges Lefebvre's interpretation of "Napoleon"11 as opposed to Villepin's. And for an indexing example, the American Melvyl Dewey's "Decimal Classification System" provides room, beneath its general category Religion, for many Protestant Christian denominations, but only one space for Catholic -- this for use by a national French culture in which religion is predominantly Catholic.

So Jeanneney of the BnF speaks perhaps for the world, in this. What society could not make the same sort of "'The Scarlet Pimpernel' crushing '93'" claim, claiming also to understand their own culture better than "foreigners" do? Not that the claim necessarily is correct: Tocqueville is only one of many who might demonstrate that foreigners often know us better than we know ourselves -- but the claim is made. Thus an important cultural gauntlet has been thrown down, here, against Google.

 

5) "Preservation and Access", a view of Google from libraries

Yet another major view of "Google" deserves consideration, though. Nationalism, or one might say "culturalism", is involved in the Googlization debates, as Jeanneney's appeal demonstrates. But functional questions are involved, as well: whatever the nation, for instance, libraries everywhere have a common need to safeguard their elderly and deteriorating paper collections, now. Umberto Eco, again:

    "I am terrorized by the idea that all the books which have appeared on cellulose paper since the 19th century are destined to disappear because they are so fragile. Average age: 70 years!... It will cost a fortune..."12

The question of paper acidity in library collections has become like the question of a human contribution to Global Warming: the experts are divided, and the publicists and politicians are busy exploiting the debate and its division -- there are people who claim that there is no paper acidity problem, just as there are people who claim that human-caused Global Warming will wipe out the entire planet, and soon, and there are those who claim the contrary in both cases.

The real problem being, though, do we want to take the chance? Do we want to continue with "smog", gambling that it does not cause "global warming"? Likewise do we want to stop worrying over "acid paper", simply hoping that it is not breaking down, and that our 19th c. and early 20th c. printed texts will not in fact disappear?

Yes, the digitization of our library print collections is expensive, as Eco points out. But that is where Google has come in: they have offered to pay for it. Google has become a $78b organization[a], one possessing largesse aplenty to devote to such an undertaking, far more than that even of an institution as old and enormous as the BnF -- one of the world's greatest libraries -- and certainly more than most other, smaller cultural institutions might be able to amass, or tap elsewhere.

And Google appears to possess a great deal of the relevant technical knowledge, and some understanding of the fundamental issues: not all donors of money do. Not only does Google's Library Project offer the preservation of the texts: by digitizing them, the librarians would be able to restrict access to the fragile originals to those really in need of seeing "the book as a thing" as opposed to the text contained, and storage could be in properly air-conditioned and fireproofed premises located on inexpensive suburban real estate, instead of in the costly and inappropriate central campus big-city downtown locations now in use, which so often entail damage to the old books. Google also offers the access to the materials much longed-for by generations of librarians and library users: they are, after all, the world's premiere distributor of information, already -- "the leading search engine in guiding Internet users through the immensity of the Web", per no less than the BnF chief himself, Jeanneney.

The traditional twin dreams of librarianship, long thought irreconcilable -- preservation and access -- now both wrapped up in a single package and offered, by Google, for free, or nearly... So Google would seem to be the ideal partner, for libraries, pace the worries of the BnF président.

 

6) Which view is correct? Statics...

And now comes the political point. How may a compromise, if any, be reached? Is there to be a culture war, or competition, or might some sort of cooperation be worked out, which would "please all of the people all of the time"?

There are some valid technical worries, and some philosophical concerns, as M. Jeanneney and others now have pointed out to Google. The difficulties of marrying profit-making institutions up with those which are not, for example, cause problems everywhere that is attempted, and perhaps no place moreso than in France. Also, the details of digitizing ancient texts still are a work-in-progress: technical people only now are developing machinery able to hold and scan eccentric ancient bound books without damaging them -- and machinery to reproduce what is scanned so that it may be used still is expensive and not always reliable, despite Moore's Law and its many corollaries dictating that it rapidly will get cheaper and better -- and systems to recognize printed characters need work, and standards are not settled, and technicians and scholars never seem to agree on standards, and so on. Many of the battles one associates with Googlization, nowadays, are being waged on such fronts.

The BnF président, too, has injected or at least recognized politics -- always present, in anything, and always a valid consideration even if eternally frustrating -- the nationalism which urges that a "French" alternative be developed to the "American", Google, or at least a "European" alternative. In the journals, then, and for this purpose particularly online, in the e-conferences13, all of the minutiae of the current Google situation are being debated: sometimes hotly, and all in excruciating detail.

 

7) Which view is correct? Dynamics...

There is a crucial difference in dealing with a commercial enterprise, however. And Google is, among other things, a corporation. In any commercial enterprise, "time is of the essence": commercial people are in a hurry, always -- "time is money" -- they would rather "try", than sit and wait for a perfect solution to develop. Silicon Valley, particularly, was built upon just such an approximation model, very much as opposed to the perfection insisted upon so often outside of the commercial sphere: in hitech, new things get pre-released, and pre-pre-released, in the infamous "beta" versions, thus relying upon much free-of-charge experience and suggestions of users to improve and expand the product or service.

And therein lies much of the controversy, in the current Googlization situation. Because there are others who prefer to wait. Rare book librarians, for example, worry greatly about damage to their books: untested or even just relatively-new systems for handling ancient volumes are viewed with great suspicion -- as are scanning lights which must pass over fragile pages bearing delicate inks and other photo-sensitive colorings -- the risk to such irreplaceable artifacts is such that more than one librarian in history has preferred that users not touch the collection at all, for fear that they might touch it improperly.

And scholars, such as Jeanneney and Eco, worry about selection, and balance: to them it makes no sense to push forward with a biased sample when a greater and better-balanced corpus from which to choose might be assembled later -- they worry greatly over the cultural impact, should a "The Scarlet Pimpernel" view of the French Revolution be propagated widely, now, simply because people refused to wait until they could select better to form the broader picture. And politicians... As Jeanneney says, there are French and European points of view in this. Just so, there might be Chinese and Nigerian, too; and Peruvian -- someone of Incan ancestry in Cuzco might take similar exception, to selecting texts from libraries in Spain alone, for a definitive online version of her country's colonial history.

But Google's point would be -- the commercial point always is -- that waiting for "perfection" never works -- that the point is first to try, taking the entrepreneurial first step, then to test, and subject to failure analysis, and update, and improve, and then to try again. So, already, Google "has a beta up online", at http://print.google.com/: "beta" being SiliconValleySpeak for "a try", as the software-using world now knows so well. "So very hasty", the more cautious librarians and scholars and politicians all might mutter, the way the great Ent mumbles about the Hobbits in The Lord of the Rings. But therein lies the essential difference, which is creating much of the controversy now over Googlization: Google, true to its commercial form and attitudes, is not waiting until a perfect solution emerges from research, it is getting out immediately and "doing it"... The cultural contrast, between the commercial firm and the non-profit institutions now "aghast" at its daring, could not be greater. But then libraryland has known about acid paper for some time, and has spilled much ink and many digits over "preservation and access", for many years, with far less result than Google now may be achieving in a matter of months...

So it is a matter of dynamics, perhaps. The statics of the current situation certainly do appear to point out seemingly-enormous problems still, in the process of digitizing and preserving and making accessible the world's printed texts to the entire world. The entire world does not yet have computers, for one thing, let alone Internet access. But the imagination and sheer drive of a young and energetic commercial firm such as Google may be exactly what the world needs to get the process started, at least: the dynamics. By the time the others get around to this, the old printed texts may well have disappeared, or -- perhaps worse -- been entirely forgotten. And among them all perhaps only Google is brash enough, and imaginative enough -- and wealthy enough, perhaps sadly -- to realize that the entire world does have flipfones and satellite access, now, so that the access paradigm for delivery of digital texts now must shift to that form of media. Knowing Google, they're probably already working on this.

 

8) A few fundamental questions, before any conclusions

It is too early... for conclusions about any given GoogleProject, perhaps, such as their digital libraries work, and certainly for any overall conclusions about Google, in all its Protean complexity -- or about Googlization's "digitization of everything", which hasn't happened yet. But before things happen -- and by then it is too late, after all, for, "oops we dropped the book", or "oops the process seems to have faded those colors" -- it never is too early to ask questions. Not that answers may be forthcoming, but at least overlooked issues may be raised, and considered, as beta projects get under way --

8a) Fundamental questions: about finding and using digital information -- the Google "algorithm"

For example, "algorithm" is an easy word: it rolls trippingly off the tongue, and its definition is, simply, "A process, or set of rules", or so says the OED Online14 -- also, an interesting source calling itself the Online Etymology Dictionary declares, "from M.L. algorismus, a mangled transliteration of Arabic al-Khwarizmi 'native of Khwarazm', surname of the mathematician whose works introduced sophisticated mathematics to the West"15...

The trouble with easy definitions being, though, that they so often beg the context of the question. In the case of Google the information retrieval question is not whether an algorithm is used, but what exactly that set of rules says: and the answer to this being "proprietary", in other words "worth a lot of money" in Google's commercial context, that answer is a closely-guarded secret... one thinks of all those polite security-people, haunting the grounds and corridors of "1600 Amphitheatre Parkway"... plus all the latest headlines about Google's hiring brains away from Microsoft and others, and rising numbers of intellectual property and non-compete-agreement lawsuits.

The primary fear about Google among users, then -- particularly among sophisticated potential customers, such as the BnF président, Jeanneney -- is the secrecy. They want to know how it works: unlike the millions of users who now simply plug a search of some sort into the little "command line" single data-entry box -- "The Onebox", it's called -- at "www.google.com", then blindly grab the top item, out of the "10,300,000 retrieved in 2.48 seconds" (for a search on "telephone") or the "16,800,000 retrieved in .12 seconds" (for a search on "horses"), without ever asking, "just how did that 'top' item get ranked at the 'top'?"

But Jeanneney would like to know. He also would like to know, among many other things, how the Google system, set of rules, algorithm, whatever, decides that a "telephone" might include a "flipfone" but not, say, "two cans with a string"? He would like to know how the inquiry, in the famous library story of the little girl asking at the loan desk for "a book about horses", gets parsed by Google: librarianship has puzzled over that one for generations... In Jeanneney's particular case he would like to know, too, whether a Google-governed search on "French revolution", of his own or other libraries' collections, will cough up, at its retrieval "top", first Georges Lefebvre's version, or some other, or perhaps that of the Baroness Orczy: not necessarily to control and censor this process -- but as a librarian, and writer, and interested observer, he simply wants to know.

One chief problem which Google faces currently, then, in its attempt to scale up its various models and algorithms and ideas to international and trans-national applications, is this commercial secrecy: it is another conundrum -- if Google lets the secrets out they are toast, they are convinced -- Microsoft and others in their commercial world would eat them for breakfast -- but if they keep their secrets in, their own customers will become suspicious. It is hard to decide which would be a worse fate.

8b) Fundamental questions: about preserving printed texts -- book-handling

In the arena of digitizing printed texts, as well, Google faces fundamental questions. Many of the traditional problems in this already well-explored area are being addressed and resolved, as part of the Google Print & Scholar & Library projects16. The difficult mechanics of the scanning, and particularly the page-turning, of brittle elderly books, questions of image resolution, problems of exposing already-faded printed texts to intense light, issues of selection, all are being addressed -- some delicately, building upon the work of others, some perhaps with brute force.

Always, though, something gets overlooked, and that is a big preservation worry, particularly at an ancient place like the BnF, where the collections are so enormous and so old, and yet so much of the actual volume of books is 19th and early 20th century in origin -- precisely the period in which the use of papers destined to become acidic and imperiled today was at its height. Institutional memory at a place like the BnF is long, and it includes many previous preservation efforts and other innovations, all of which came wrapped in technical assurances belying lacunae in "the plan" which eventually developed, damaging the collection. It is the situation of the facades of old churches in France, cleansed by sandblasting of their Industrial Revolution soot, yes, but also it turns out of the last vestiges of medieval polychrome which might have given us more clues as to how they originally were painted... Or the David and other famous marbles, on which 19th century restorers poured acids and strange adhesives17...

So, what about book-handling? More than just the sophisticated and careful experts will be handling the books at the scanning stations: book "pages", including distracted undergraduates worried more about their upcoming exams or dates and dancing than they are about their library jobs, inevitably will take some part in the digitization of millions of library volumes. And per the 80/20 rule of inventory control, at least 80% of these old collections -- perhaps 90%, in the case of enormous collections of seldom-if-ever used items like the "inventory" of the BnF -- will be handled perhaps for the first time in over a century, or the first time ever: by dirty fingers yanking at brittle book binding spines to pull them down from tightly-packed high shelves, rubbing decaying leather covers against one another, roughly opening fragile and untouched volumes along their now-brittle centers -- "I just needed to check that it was the right one!"... -- and perhaps even dropping a book or several on the floor, en route, or at least piling them in with others, into whatever chaotic book cart or carrying case has been scavenged for the purpose.

One partial solution would be to bring the scanning station to the books, rather than vice versa: something mobile, on wheels, trundling up and down inside the dim and dusty stacks -- this way only the sophisticated and careful experts would be handling the volumes. The librarians, any librarians, will tell Google this... in theory... In practice, though, experts are expensive, and the handling of millions of books for such a project inevitably will involve users less careful than the librarians are. How many books get damaged during a collection move? The BnF made such a move recently, and has statistics: the damage percentage was small, as I remember -- things long thought "lost" have been "found", even. But in a simple move the individual books in theory do not get opened, and entire shelves can be wrapped and transported, and other logistical economies can do double-duty in preserving things: for scanning, though, someone must open every book -- every page, of every book...

So there are some management worries, in the handling of old books: "nightmares for librarians", to accompany the undeniably-great and long-standing dream of "universal bibliography" which Google now is offering.

8c) Fundamental questions: about industrial and intellectual property -- copyright, etc.

Unanswerable questions, too, face those worrying over Google as well as those promoting it. Copyright, for instance... Publishers, and libraries, and for that matter movie studios and literary agents and the full panoply of the traditional Infotainment industries, all are very worried about their income-stream, now -- and a few authors are too, the established ones among them, anyway. Will the new digital media protect said income stream? Will it enhance it? Will it damage it? Will it (shudder) change it?

The key to these questions for a very long time has been copyright. But the sheer length of that time period is the problem: copyright is merely a legal institution, and like any such "institution" it must change, over time. A recent president of Yale used to muse that he was trying to run an 18th c. institution as a 20th c. organization -- the industrial and intellectual activities of information publication and exchange have changed rapidly, recently, and still are changing, and copyright must change with them. The direction and extent of the change are unclear to all who grapple with it, for now: most are awaiting the maturity of the information technologies, which have shown no inclination to settle down yet.

Google is a central player, in this fundamental copyright change. The ability to link together global information resources, and search through them, and present the results in new and imaginative ways, via all of the many GoogleProjects18 and those still to come, may in fact increase the overall income-stream of publication and its related activities. Computerization famously did this for paper, despite 1970s "paperless office" predictions19: paper industries are in greatly-increasing demand today.

Copyright is being used now, however, as a shield, for that traditional income-stream: a reaction, against "the threat of the new", which digital information is presenting to all media now. Elderly movie studios fight proposals for digital distribution of their film archives, ferociously; already-successful rock music groups war with new musicians who want to distribute soundclips and songs online; print publishers consolidate low-end "pulp" with high-end "coffee-table" lists, cutting out their "small press-run" material entirely, and are themselves consolidated into large industrial consortia, thus becoming little more than financial investments to their owners; and "the news" has less and less to do with newspapers. Copyright protects the income-stream of what remainder of these once-healthy industries still thrives. But that remainder shrinks: individual firms may do well, but overall the media industries, particularly print publishing, view a financial end-point approaching fast -- they become defensive and hide behind copyright, prey upon one another, and finally get swallowed up by large financial firms20.

Nowhere is the "static vs. dynamic" distinction made above, here, more present than in the copyright arena. Another elderly concept -- in this case François Ier's 16th c. idea of "dépôt légal" -- being applied to brand new 21st c. ideas... the Procrustean approach, fitting the new client to the old bed...

8d) Fundamental questions: the publishing industries -- we need them

The digital age is going to need some sort of publishing industry, though. Even as we readjust our 16th c. notions of copyright to suit our 21st c. technology capacities, disrupting and even shattering the 19th c. income-stream of our current publishers, we still are going to need some sort of institutionalized publishing structure which will "do the work".

For this was the great discovery which doomed the Dotcom Bubble firms: so many of those "started up" completely innocent of the need for, and the tedious and messy and unglamorous and unexciting nature of, and high expense of, normal business tasks: such as marketing, and sales, and packaging, customer relations, returns, complaints, bookkeeping, general office overhead. All these, too many Dotcom startups thought, were unnecessary or somehow would be taken care of by the technology, magically, so too often such tasks simply did not get included in the business plan, or in the budget. And so some equally-innocent, or greedy, venture capitalists backed the firm, and then some innocent-or-cynical securities financiers promoted its IPO shares, and *presto* that particular "bubblet" was born21.

Anyone experienced in business would have known how important, and also how expensive, these routine business tasks are to any firm. But the startup Dotcom bubble firms rarely had anyone experienced in business on board: in electrical engineering or computer science or physics or mathematics or other technical fields, yes, but not in business. And trying to do business without knowing business is like trying to do electrical engineering without knowing electrical engineering: things get overlooked.

Digital publishing, then, like the print publishing paradigm which preceded it, is going to need "marketing & packaging & customer relations" and all the other normal business tasks performed -- no doubt in new combinations, and at different spending levels on the cashflow sheet, but they will be there still, and they will be expensive. As in the Dotcom Bubble case, few of the technologists currently enamored of the fascinating images of GoogleEarth, and the amazing functionality of the Google search & retrieval algorithm, and the wonderful designs of the GoogleLogo, are going to want to devote valuable and to-them very boring hours to niggling the details of customer relations with unsophisticated users in Des Moines. And yet Google is going to need that latter skill too. Anyone involved in the new publishing paradigm which rapidly is developing still is going to need someone to do the officework, both front office and back office. Yes, some of it can be "outsourced to India", but not all: and even then someone in the firm needs to understand what the firm's customer relations folks in Bangalore are up against, and needs to stay in touch with and excited about that invaluable customer contact and feedback, and that is not your usual technologist.

So there will be digital publishing industries, employing non-technical people for traditional business functions -- firms which feel they can circumvent this need have forgotten about the customer and how very difficult and time-consuming and expensive he or she can be, and they themselves are destined to become mere bubblets in a new Digital Information Bubble. Readjusting publishing income-streams through readjusting copyright will alter the financial structures of these industries greatly, but they will not eliminate those structures. Authors never have been good at "marketing & packaging & customer relations": and they still are not, as any glance at the countless startup commercial ventures now available on the Internet will demonstrate -- small business still has a very high failure rate, there.

Along the way to our new digital publishing industries model, however, there will be significant social casualties. Already, smallpress and academic and professional publishing all have suffered greatly, and either have migrated to online formats or been totally eliminated. Societies without smallpress and academic and professional publishing are poorer for that lack. And the online alternative makes up for the lack only partially, as not everyone in a society is online: eventually they may be, but perhaps only those wealthy enough will get there, in too many situations. And, in the meantime, how will poor poets and scholars and professionals function, and the less financially-fortunate readers and clients of same?

8e) Fundamental questions: trans-national "corporations" (?)

Some elderly and outmoded concepts are involved here, then: for instance copyright, which dates from the 16th c. and never was intended to cover digital downloading and file-sharing and flipfones -- also print publishing, which dates from even earlier and never anticipated an era of direct marketing between "author" and "customer", much less new digital miracles such as media convergence and universal access.

So, what about the corporation? Is this too an elderly and outmoded concept, in the Digital Age? It might seem so, with Google. State-sanctioned enterprises date to Rome, and some associations today which look and act like modern "corporations" still work under legal structures dating to the middle ages: allegedly the oldest functioning corporation, a Finnish-Swedish paper firm, Stora Enso Oyj (NYSE symbol SEO), claims legal descent from a royal charter first granted in 134722. When critics such as the BnF's Jeanneney describe, or disparage, Google as being "merely a commercial corporation", then, our first difficulty lies in determining what it really is: in what sense does this energetic bunch of 20-somethings really have anything in common with ancient notions like "Stora Kopparbergs Bergslags Aktiebolag" or "The Dutch East India Company" or "Yale University"?

Much in the nature of the corporation has changed since Rome, and since 1347 or 1602 or 1701. One common thread, though, running throughout the history of the idea and still present today, has been state-sanctioning: that, in return for various privileges and protections granted by the State, those involved in the corporation would conduct themselves in a certain way. Nowadays perhaps that basic "state sanction" needs changing, because the state itself is changing, and Google offers a fine example.

Google maintains a "legal address" in the city of Mountain View, which is in the county of San Mateo which is in the state of California, which is one of fifty United States of America, and to this extent Google may be said to be a "US corporation" and subject to US laws and politics... But, increasingly, that legal address is all that makes the corporation "American". Like so many corporations now, and particularly like most large ones, Google in fact is not only international, it is trans-national -- it transcends national boundaries23 -- its people are, its assets are, its interests and activities are, its income is, and the trans-national characteristic of all of these will only increase as the firm grows.

Is there "law" to govern all of this? Increasingly, local and even national laws are insufficient -- certainly for Internet companies such as Google, but then all companies nowadays are "Internet". It is difficult enough to tax an entity which has assets scattered all over the world, let alone regulate its conduct and affect its policies. Private International Law for this purpose exists, and is growing rapidly: both formal and informal international norms can have their effect upon a firm now, from international arbitration to WTO rules to contractual and simply consensual conduct24. To do business in China, for example, most firms have to make compromises -- Google will, as well.

Interestingly, too, regionalism is a growing force internationally now: several nation-states, sensing the waning of their own individual sovereignties, grouping together to wield their collective influence over international trade and other matters25. Some see this as a threat, to long-cherished dreams of truly international and trans-national organization: some, for example, "fear that the world economy could fragment into rival blocs centered on the three dominant economies"26. Yet norms, legal and other, derived from the rapidly-evolving development of the European Union, currently the world's leading regionalism leader -- in its law of persons and juristic persons, and its directives on companies law and securities -- may arrive first, and then be applied to govern trans-national organizations such as Google. To the extent that other regions, such as the Andean Pact, then adopt EU solutions, trans-national corporations may come to resemble more the "SE / Societas Europea" than they do any current nation-state's corporate model.

In the meantime, though, should an organization such as Google be viewed -- and feared, by some -- as a corporation, much less an "American" corporation? Is there truly, in Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber's classic definition of the issue, an "American Challenge / défi américain"27 to be resisted, here? Jeanneney believes that there is, clearly. The power of his "The Scarlet Pimpernel" example of the inevitable selectivity, and cultural bias, in all things historical -- including the selection of which books to digitize -- resides precisely in his assumption that Google will be "American". But what if it isn't? What if Google in fact, with assets in Bangalore and Tokyo and Paris, and technology from Spain and Australia and Japan, and employees and customers all over the world, is international, and even trans-national? What if the ideas driving the policies of this forward-looking firm have so little to do with just "America", any longer, that nothing is left in that connection, really, but the "1600 Amphitheatre Parkway" legal address?

There is the money, of course: and the ownership, and the corporate structure... that those still appear to be American, at least primarily. Again, though, are they? The regulation of stock markets has been loosened so much, recently, and then each market tied so inextricably together with all the others, that one nowadays never knows: news of that well-publicized Google IPO auction reached millions of Internet terminals located all over the world, and obtained many new owners / shareholders for Google, in theory at least. But even in the sense of real financial control, and benefit -- as opposed to the ownership of a few shares, in any large modern corporation -- the diffusion achieved at Google may well reflect the diffusion in international finance generally. It is said nowadays, not entirely tongue-in-cheek, that "the overseas investors own America": that foreign holders of US government debt -- in China, in Japan, in Europe -- own substantial and ultimately even controlling financial interests in America and its policies. Likewise a corporation such as Google may be owned, nowadays, by large "foreign" interests: enough so that corporate policy might be influenced? Perhaps.

The point being not so much to influence policy, corporate or national or other, as at least to recognize modern financial reality which no longer confines ownership within nation-state boundaries. The corner grocery store probably still is locally-owned, exclusively; but the large corporation, anywhere, undoubtedly is not. Google is no exception.

And, finances aside, is a firm such as Google nevertheless subject to American regulatory control? Yes but it is to the regulations of other nations, as well -- of any nation in which it does business, in fact, and this particular "Google" firm does business in them all, it seems -- also to growing bodies of private international law, and regional law, and arbitration and trade conventions, and other legal and quasi-legal norms. Political analysts even point out, now -- to no less than the President of the United States -- that in the modern world there is "soft" power which is even more omnipresent and effective than the "hard" power which so many believe really runs things28. If the US president, knowingly or not, is bound by "soft" power nowadays, how much more then is a commercial entity fighting for its market share, such as Google.

 

9) In conclusion, so far...

How should Google be viewed, then? That depends... Like anything else, it depends on the angle most personally familiar -- what sociologists used to call observational standpoint29 -- the perennial problem being that, "if your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail"...

So if stockholding and human interest are your "angles", then a visit to 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway tells your story. While if The Matrix and its virtual reality are your universe, all you need do is "point 'n click" on a website. But if nationalism is your concern, neither the visit nor the "click" may be necessary: plenty has been written, in old printed books, about that, and it simply needs reconsideration. If preserving and providing access to such old printed books are your primary interests, plenty has been written on those issues too: again, no site visits necessary, real or virtual. And Google is not the first multi-faceted phenomenon to have had both a statics and a dynamics side to it: all do, in fact -- Google is at once a thing "in the world" and a thing which is "becoming", and the extremes of its phenomenology have their adherents, as always, each often blind to their opposite numbers. Just as libraries, for example, look different after 100 years pass, so too will Google.

But Google, also, just might be something entirely new: something not really "American", at all -- something like a corporation, perhaps, but one as international or even trans-national nowadays as, say, Nestlé, or la BNP, or Royal Dutch Shell. The nature of the multi-national corporation may have changed, now, for better or for worse -- and it may be time for us to recognize that, in the case of Google as in these other examples. Google may seem "unreal", but perhaps it is our new "reality".

It is something very much the result of the new and frightening Globalization, maybe. "I am not frightened of new ideas, I am frightened of old ones", the Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos quotes approvingly on his corporate coffee-mugs. But his is a new trans-national organization too, so he would say that... Those of us not yet on board the Globalization bandwagon perhaps have a right to our fears.

But what is it, that we fear? In traditional terms perhaps it is things such as Americanization. That seems increasingly to be a casualty of Globalization, however, not a cause: from 50% of the world's wealth, at mid-20th c., the US is down nearly to 20% now, and a far greater proportion of that remainder appears today to be foreign-owned. At current GDP increase rates China and India and others will reduce that US overall GDP share to far less within a decade. Political and cultural hegemony are concerns, but historically these always have "followed the money": politics has, at least -- "culture" occasionally having found pockets of resistance less easily touched by economic forces in which to shelter, for a while. But ultimately all systems seek equilibrium, so hegemony of any kind -- one factor, or actor, "standing out" above and beyond all the others -- rarely lasts for long.

The fear may stem from an opposite source, then. It may not be the gain of something new, which is threatened by Google, but the loss of something old: the loss of culture, of language, of the traditions embodied in and conveyed by printed books -- not that all this should not change, as it always has, but we understandably fear loss in that process. This appears to be Jeanneney's fear: qua librarian and qua scholar he validly worries for both the items in his collection and the ideas they contain and represent -- change does threaten both, and there inevitably will be losses. Do we therefore oppose all change, though? That is the issue, in Google as a phenomenon. It is not that it might be American, or technological, or corporate, or commercial: all these questions are important, but there are answers to each, some which satisfy and some which just mollify or even alarm. What really seems to worry most who resist Google, though, is simply its novelty, the threat of change.

The best response to such a fear may seem to be that of Jeanneney's own "we must do this our own way": developing a French competitor, or a pan-European one, to challenge the American innovation. But Google no longer is American -- no large trans-national company is -- in the globalized market and world now dawning, all things are trans-national, including companies and libraries and writing30.

So fighting things on a national basis is wrestling with a phantom. Google's challenge may be met by something "better", from a technical or marketing perspective. But as to cultural superiority, or even product differentiation, well, modern users just may not care: citizen-consumers are adjusting to globalization far faster than their political leaders are. France may be reacting against a thing perceived to be "American", then, precisely when the thing is freeing itself from any national ties at all and is floating free, globalizing, for better or for worse. That is the threat with which Jeanneney and the French really are wrestling, now: it is a contest, perhaps a worthwhile one, but perhaps it simply is one being waged against change.

So we ask Google our questions: how does its search algorithm work -- will its Digital Library project damage our books -- does it threaten Copyright, and, if we change that, how can we sustain the publishing industries we still will need -- and is all of this yet another "défi américain", or do we truly have something trans-national and globalized here, something "new"? And Google responds, as hitech tends to do, with beta tests... with fascinating new digital toys, such as GoogleEarth -- which, rather than answer our theoretical questions directly, give us something resembling what we've asked about, and the chance to participate in its creation and improvement ourselves. And we feel cheated: we didn't get the direct answer we demanded, or perhaps the argument we sought... but the new toys turn out to be very useful, in fact, and they are fun...

 

Georges Perec might have asked, although I'm sure that he didn't, "Google -- is that a verb?" The name is said to be a pun on "Gogol": the product of late nights in the Stanford lab, and some joking-around among students. And the term has become a verb, in fact: the first thing one does now with any factoid is to "google" it... on Google... Perec's entire point being, though, that it doesn't matter so much whether a thing is a noun, or a verb, or whether it is legal or political or technical -- or national, or not -- it is enough that it is in the world, and that it is useful or at least interesting, and that something "fun" may be found in it. But the world was not ready for Perec, either.

 

--oOo--

 

Notes:

1 http://earth.google.com -- not yet available for the Mac ("under development" [May 23 2006 update: Mac version available now]), but downloadable to any late-model ("fast") Wintel pc, GoogleEarth is undoubtedly one of the most remarkable applications of digital technology which the Internet has enabled so far -- sort of a combination of Landsat imaging of the globe, with the very latest in "neat & fun" aircraft simulator graphics -- the ability to swoop in visually from space, but not at imaginary targets, at the real Earth, itself, to very fine & fascinating detail...

2 The already-full but rapidly-changing menu, for the fast-growing Google digital smörgåsbord, is to be found online at, http://www.google.com/intl/en/options/ -- the really cutting-edge / bleeding-edge projects are at, http://labs.google.com/ -- the French-language listing currently is incomplete, but they are working on it at, http://www.google.com/intl/fr/options/ -- you can see Google in Esperanto, as well, http://www.google.com/intl/eo/ -- also in Guaraní, http://www.google.com/intl/gn/...

3 Gibson, William. Neuromancer (New York : Ace Books, 1984).

4 One outstanding cultural statement of the Digital Era's infamous "information overload" was made by The Police, on their 1981 Ghost in the Machine album,

      Too much information running through my brain
      Too much information driving me insane
      Too much information running through my brain
      Too much information driving me insane

      I've seen the whole world six times over
      Sea of Japan to the Cliffs of Dover
      Overkill
      Overview
      Over my dead body

-- the best rejoinder to that sentiment having been, perhaps, from R.E.M.'s 1991 Out of Time album,

      Shiny happy people holding hands

-- intimations of the perennial Candide / Pangloss idea, in this case by the modern generation.

5 Latest count 4183, per The San Francisco Chronicle, August 14, 2005, p. B1. [Update: 5680 as of May 23, 2006, per http://finance.yahoo.com/q/pr?s=GOOG.]

6 For an unauthorized but apparently accurate bio of Jeanneney, see, http://www.evene.fr/celebre/biographie/jean-noel-jeanneney-15681.php?.

7 http://www.bnf.fr/pages/dernmin/pdf/articles/lemonde_2401.pdf -- and the BnF has assembled a useful website offering Jeanneney's articles in fulltext, and other materials in that GoogleDebate, at, http://www.bnf.fr/pages/zNavigat/frame/dernmin.htm?ancre=com_google.htm -- or try, http://www.bnf.fr/pages/dernmin/com%5Fgoogle.htm.

8 Interviewed in Le Nouvel Observateur (no. 1406, 17-23 Octobre, 1991).

9 Cobban, Alfred. A history of modern France (Harmondsworth, Middlesex : Penguin Books, c1961). [Update May 24, 2006: Cobban's "the weakness of a new man for real gentlemen" being a prime example of a culture-bound phrase; nearly as good as Arthur Waley's wonderful "madly singing in the mountains", intended by its original author to be a translation of an ancient Chinese poem, but in fact a phrase which might only have been uttered by a Bloomsbury gentleman of Waley's own era -- as his biographer charmingly recognized, see Madly Singing In The Mountains, ed. Ivan Morris (London : Allen & Unwin, 1970) ISBN 0048280038.]

10 Villepin, Dominique de. Les cent-jours, ou, L'esprit de sacrifice (Paris : Perrin, c2001) ISBN 2262013977.

11 Lefebvre, Georges. Napoléon (Paris : Presses universitaires de France, 1969 [c1936]).

12 Interviewed in Le Nouvel Observateur (no. 1406, 17-23 Octobre, 1991).

[a] [Update May 24, 2006: Google "value" today is at "Enterprise Value" $104 billion, "Market Capitalization" $115 billion, per http://finance.yahoo.com/q/ks?s=GOOG.]

13 Examples of some outstanding e-conference archives follow: chief loci of the most interesting, and fruitful, GoogleDebates -- the Mainstream Media currently covers them too, but that coverage tends to be fickle --

14 The Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2005). http://www.oed.com/

15 http://www.etymonline.com

16

17 Scigliano, Eric. "Inglorious Restorations: destroying old masterpieces in order to save them", in Harper's (August 2005) p. 61.

18 See, http://www.google.com/intl/en/options/ for the complete current list of GoogleProjects, which like everything else at Google is changing constantly.

19 Lancaster, Frederick Wilfrid. Toward paperless information systems (New York : Academic Press, 1978).

20 This process has been extensively documented for book, news, periodical, music, and cinema publishing in the US, the UK, Germany, and various other countries, particularly by the financial media. For the French printed book publishing case, which is distinctive in some respects but has been no less traumatized, the best resources on this recent financial history still are the excellent studies done by François Rouet, Le livre : mutations d'une industrie culturelle (Documentation française, c1992) Series : Notes et études documentaires 0029-4004 no. 4959-60; updated by him in 2000 under the same title, Series : Notes et études documentaires 0029-4004 no. 5105, Etudes de la Documentation française 1152-4596 .

21 Leading venture capitalist John Doerr's classic advice to hitech startups recognizes this need: "Are they great at selling? In a small company, everybody is selling all the time. Believe me, selling is honorable work -- particularly in a startup, where it's the difference between life and death... Often the founders... all come from the same department, usually engineering. They're expert in their own world. But frequently their world is all they know." Malone, Michael S. "John Doerr's Startup Manual", in Fast Company (Feb-Mar 1997) p. 82, Issue 07. http://www.fastcompany.com/online/07/082doerr.html

22 http://www.storaenso.com/CDAvgn/main/0,,1_-5607-12356-,00.html

23 Current legal & political Globalization literature takes increasing, if sometimes grudging, recognition of "trans-national" realities, building upon far-sighted work from the 1960s & 70s, such as that of Raymond Vernon, see his Sovereignty at bay; the multinational spread of U.S. enterprises (New York : Basic Books, [1971]), and the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law (founded 1963), http://www.columbia.edu/cu/jtl/; and political works such as Transnational relations and world politics Eds. Robert O. Keohane & Joseph S. Nye, Jr. (Harvard, 1972).

Leading proponents of the "trans-national" idea increasingly come from other fields as well: for example the sociologist/urbanologist Saskia Sassen: http://sociology.uchicago.edu/faculty/sassen.html -- http://www.lse.ac.uk/people/s.sassen@lse.ac.uk/ -- see for example her,

    • Global Networks/Linked Cities (ed.) (Routledge, 2002)
    • The Global City: New York London Tokyo (Princeton, 1991, 2001)
    • Globalization and Its Discontents: Selected Essays 1984-1998 (New Press, 1998)
    • Losing control? : sovereignty in an age of globalization (Columbia, c1996)
    • Transnational economies and national migration policies (Inst. for Migration & Ethnic Studies, U. of Amsterdam, c1996)
    • The Mobility of Labor and Capital (Cambridge U., 1988)
    • "Globalization or denationalization?", in Review of International Political Economy 10:1 February 2003: 1.22, also conveniently available online at, http://transnationalism.uchicago.edu/De-Nationalization.pdf

[Update May 23, 2006: a (nearly?-) complete bibliography of the prolific Sassen now is online at,

24 See for example, among many recent articles on this subject: Murphy, Sean. "Taking Multinational Corporate Codes of Conduct to the Next Level", in Columbia Journal of Transnational Law, v. 43 no. 2 (2005) p. 389 -- http://www.columbia.edu/cu/jtl/Vol_43_2_files/Vol_43_2_murphy.html

25 See generally for all these topics: Reynolds, Thomas & Arturo A. Flores. Foreign law : current sources of codes and basic legislation in jurisdictions of the world (Littleton, Colorado : F.B. Rothman, 1989- ), Series: AALL publications series 33. http://www.foreignlawguide.com/

26 Gilpin, Robert. The Challenge of Global Capitalism : The World Economy in the 21st Century (Princeton, 2000). p. 42.

27 Servan-Schreiber, Jean Jacques. Le Défi Américain (Paris : Denoël, 1967); tr. Ronald Steel. The American challenge (New York : Atheneum, 1968).

28 Nye, Joseph S.. Soft power : the means to success in world politics (New York : Public Affairs, c2004).

29 Harold Lasswell, in a seminar, a long time ago...

30 I am thinking here of Globalization as fact, not as belief. See John Gray's sage warning against confusing globalization with, among other beliefs, nationalism, in his review of Thomas L. Friedman's The World Is Flat (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005): Gray points out, "Nationalism fueled the rapid growth of capitalism in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and is doing the same in China and India at the present time. In both countries globalization is being embraced not only because of the prosperity it makes possible, but also for the opportunity it creates to challenge Western hegemony. In fact nationalist resistance to globalization is more prominent in advanced countries such as France, Holland, and the US than in emerging economies. In the fast-industrializing countries of Asia, nationalism is one of globalization.s driving forces". Gray, John. "The World Is Round", in The New York Review of Books (August 11, 2005), p. 13.

 

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* "Chronique de l'arobase : L'Affaire Google", in,
Histoires littéraires : revue trimestrielle consacrée à la littérature française des XIXème et XXème siècles,
(Paris : Histoires Littéraires, [2000-]), 2006, numéro HL 25 (2006-1), ISSN 1623-5843, page 141, en vente à l'adresse,
http://www.histoires-litteraires.org/presentation.htm
--oOo--
Sommaire du numéro :
http://www.histoires-litteraires.org/somcomp25.htm
--oOo--
- 2006, année cornélienne 3
- Documents
* F. Rouget, Jean Cocteau inédit 9
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* J.-L. Debauve, Jean Cocteau lecteur de Mallarmé 23
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* H. Phillips, Actrices et religion : entre le Diable et le Bon Dieu 41
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* L. Chaffin, Le succès d'une femme auteur : le cas Zénaïde Fleuriot 75
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* A. Lhermitte, Marcel Schwob de 1955 à 2005 121
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* J. Kessler, L'Affaire Google 141
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- Chronique des ventes et des catalogues 177
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