Randall Stross is professor of business at San Jose State University. He is the columnist for Digital Domain at The New York Times. In this 2008 book published by Atlantic Books, London, Stross outlines the influence of Google.com by narrating the development of the company and its various innovative products. Written in a non-technical format, this is an interesting read on the history of the Google company. It reveals numerous behind the scene developments which are not obvious to the general public.

Stross is very thorough in his treatment of the subject. He starts with describing the battle between open and closed-source software. The open-source software is epitomised by Google in that “information wants to be free.” The opposite of this is Microsoft with its closed-source software and its opposing thought that “information is too valuable to be free.”

Google started with an Internet search engine software with “a grand aspiration: organize the world’s information.” In the process, it developed a highly sophisticated software that can learn and organize information at a level and rate astonishing to our perception. This algorithm is what distanced Google from Yahoo in the speed at which it searches out information. Google also wants to scan all the books in the world so that its search engine may index and search the contents.

In its expansion to collect information, Google soon discover that that are many types of information -video, maps and emails. The Google search engine was not able to handle these different forms of information so Google bought YouTube, Keyhole (which led to Google Earth), and developed gmail.

Reading the book gives me a better understanding of the nature of information, and of knowledge. It is interesting that Google is able to develop an algorithm that can search, index, and even ‘understand’ digital text. Yet that algorithm is unable to cope with video. To shift out pornography, hate messages and extreme violence from other videos is beyond the capability of the algorithm. What a human mind can differentiate instantly is beyond the capability of this very sophisticated software. Yet is superior when it comes to indexing digital information texts.

I am curious to see how Google will proceed to organise the world’s information from now on

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