Magazine article American Libraries

Internet Librarian: What Is Google?

Magazine article American Libraries

Internet Librarian: What Is Google?

Article excerpt

Nobody's ever accused me of not being able to take a hint. Well, OK, in all honesty, lots of people have, including several likely reading this column (you know who you are).

Anyway, a couple of years ago, I taught a course here at the University of Washington's iSchool about Google. I assumed it would be a little one-credit seminar with a dozen or so people. We'd do some readings, have some discussion, maybe play with the search engine a little bit, and that would be that. Shows you what I know: 59 students and several media stories later (including one on the same page of the March 14, 2004, Sunday New York Times style section as Joan Rivers), we had a very different class than I'd anticipated.

After two years of being asked to teach it again, I led a follow-up class this past winter with a more focused theme: What is Google? My students investigated and analyzed the firm's current products and services to better understand its business, motivations, and so on, and then discussed what they thought Google is, what it's trying to be, and whether there's a grand plan or strategy locked in a vault in the Googleplex down in Mountain View, California. Finally, they had to devise and present a product or service they believed would fit in with whatever it was Google was trying to be.

'Twas fascinating, let me tell you. There was great subtlety and depth to the class's thinking and discussions. Here are some highlights, starting with some of the products they pitched. How about web authoring and hosting capacity? Or a fee-based audio service, a la iTunes? Perhaps a service to integrate with a Tivo-like device to search for, record, store, and maintain all things television for the couch potato in us all? (Sign me up for that one.)

I found three ideas in particular to be most thought-provoking. Mark Bardsley merged user-defined tags (such as those on del.icio.us) with PageRank producing FolkRank, to improve relevance of retrievals. Simple, very clever, and quite possibly workable. Aaron Kemp proposed Google Garage, envisioned as specialized search functionality for DIY projects. I was particularly taken with his idea to automatically recognize searches that begin with phrases like "how to" or "how do I"; seemed pretty powerful to me.

Finally, two ideas, independently very similar, from Reece Dano and Sonja Engelsen. Each proposed automatically scanning the text of Gmail and Google Talk messages, searches, and the like, to determine people's likes and dislikes, and use those to match them with other like-minded people for friendship or dating. …

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