I remember feeling very heartened to see WikiPedia, Google and others take a stand on January 18th, 2012. But I also remember feeling uneasy. In this particular case, companies were lobbying for a cause I agreed with. But what if they were lobbying for a cause I didn’t agree with? Large corporations using their power to influence politics seems like a very bad idea. Isn’t it still a bad idea, even if I happen to agree with the cause?
There’s an uncomfortable tension here. When do the ends justify the means? Isn’t the whole point of having principles that they hold true even in the direst circumstances? Why even claim that corporations shouldn’t influence politics if you’re going to make an exception for net neutrality? Why even claim that free speech is sacrosanct if you make an exception for nazi scum?
Those two examples are pretty extreme and I can easily justify the exceptions to myself. Net neutrality is too important. Stopping fascism is too important. But where do I draw the line? At what point does something become “too important?”
There are more subtle examples of corporations wielding their power. Google are constantly using their monopoly position in search and browser marketshare to exert influence over website-builders. In theory, that’s bad. But in practice, I find myself agreeing with specific instances. Prioritising mobile-friendly sites? Sounds good to me. Penalising intrusive ads? Again, that seems okey-dokey to me. But surely that’s not the point. So what if I happen to agree with the ends being pursued? The fact that a company the size and power of Google is using their monopoly for any influence is worrying, regardless of whether I agree with the specific instances.
Google’s secret effort to scan every book in the world, codenamed “Project Ocean,” began in earnest in 2002 when Larry Page and Marissa Mayer sat down in the office together with a 300-page book and a metronome. Page wanted to know how long it would take to scan more than a hundred-million books, so he started with one that was lying around. Using the metronome to keep a steady pace, he and Mayer paged through the book cover-to-cover. It took them 40 minutes.
With that 40-minute number in mind, Page approached the University of Michigan, his alma mater and a world leader in book scanning, to find out what the state of the art in mass digitization looked like. Michigan told him that at the current pace, digitizing their entire collection—7 million volumes—was going to take about a thousand years. Page, who’d by now given the problem some thought, replied that he thought Google could do it in six.
An absolutely fascinating dive into the history of Project Ocean, covering how it started at Google, how Google scanned the books (camera arrays, clever algorithms and human page turners), and the years-long legal wrangle between Google, the Authors Guild and the DOJ.
It’s there. The books are there. People have been trying to build a library like this for ages—to do so, they’ve said, would be to erect one of the great humanitarian artifacts of all time—and here we’ve done the work to make it real and we were about to give it to the world and now, instead, it’s 50 or 60 petabytes on disk, and the only people who can see it are half a dozen engineers on the project who happen to have access because they’re the ones responsible for locking it up.
Interestingly Page later opined during a Q&A that maybe it would be a good idea to “set aside a part of the world” to try out some “exciting things you could do that are illegal or not allowed by regulation.” He was roundly criticised for being an annoying, out-of-touch billionaire at the time, but perhaps he was just being wistful.
The I/O keynote is in a few hours, and while there’s been a ton of announcements and app updates leading up to the event there’s been no mention of Google’s maligned Hangouts app. So here’s my fearless prediction: expect a huge Hangouts announcement/release to a standing ovation during the keynote.
There’s just no way the app has been lacking in features and overall stability for this long (not to mention the apparent favouring of the iOS version of the app over Android) without the Google team having something up their sleeves.
UPDATE: Prediction wrong! Hangouts was just as neglected at I/O as it seems to be in it’s day-to-day life. Google did announce a new messaging app that seems to be targeted much more at the mass-market, including stickers and a built in Google assistant (don’t call it a bot?). Also announced was Duo, a one-to-one video chat app which looks very promising indeed – low friction, simple to use, good quality video!
So Google Save is pretty interesting. I tend to keep stuff in a weird combination of Pocket (for articles), Pinterest (for mood board stuff), a Twitter “read later” list and a few other places. I wonder if this could become a real catch-all for me.
A few observations:
You can edit the link title AND description, which is pretty interesting
No inline player for YouTube, seem like an oversight
No reading mode, so Pocket will still be my go-to place for a raw reading list
This seems best used for making Collections of links – think: researching a topic, or collecting links on areas of specific interest
You can’t currently share a Tag/collection, but surely that’s coming…