By Joe Levi | January 15, 2014 7:29 AM
There was a time when people said that Google was all about “search”. Today, Google is in to everything, and it’s hard to put your thumb on what Google really does. Sure, it’s still in the business of indexing the web and helping you find what you’re looking for, but today “search” is so much more than just querying a database looking for keywords.
Imagine you’re at the library and looking through one of those old card catalogs. You really have to know what you’re looking if you’re going to actually find it. If you don’t, or if you’re not an expert at the Dewy Decimal System, you might find something related to what you’re looking for, but may miss what you’re really looking for entirely. The same is true of Internet search engines.
Back in the day Yahoo! wasn’t a huge company, it was an experiment running on a server at Stanford: akebono.stanford.edu/yahoo. If you thought finding things back then was hard, you were right. It was even difficult to remember its address! Back then, Yahoo! wasn’t a search engine, it was a guide, then it evolved into a directory that you could browse. Finally a search feature was added, and in 1995 Yahoo! became a “thing”.
Hold on there, Smokey Joe! I thought this was an article about Google!
Right you are! We’ll get there, trust me.
Yahoo! stuck to its “searchable directory” roots while others started indexing the web using “spiders” to automatically follow links and catalog the resulting pages. The days of manual submissions to directories were numbered. Search engines began to pop up, and Google started its march to the top. Free-form “Search” was much easier than hunting through directories, and Google had it. However, unlike directories which are very highly structured and organized, Google’s database was much more “organic”. Search results were hit and miss. It was clear that simply searching for words and hoping to find what you were looking for wasn’t as easy as everyone thought it would be — just like the card catalog.
The problem was relevance, context, and synonyms. Those are what Google started to whittle away at. Synonyms are just a great big dictionary of words that your search and the index can be cross-referenced against. Relevance and context — well, those two are harder. To figure those out Google had to start getting to know more about you, your background, your interests, and even your locale.
Once Google was able to know more about who you are, what you like, and even where you are, it was able to tailor search results that were much more relevant to you. You know who else would like to know that information? Advertisers.
Advertisers want to get you to buy something. That something might be a product, a service, or simply an idea. Regardless of what form their wares may be, they want to maximize their return on investment (ROI) and convert as many impressions to “sales” as possible. Doing so means they need a lot of information about you. Google is happy to oblige — for a price.
Google not only indexes the web and provides one of the most powerful ways to search it known to mankind, it also provides Analytics, so content providers (such as Pocketnow) can get an idea of who is visiting their pages, for how long, and from what geography. It’s very helpful! Even if you don’t use the Google search engine, chances are that most of the websites you visit are running Google Analytics. If they’re not they may be using the Google JSAPI or CDN to help speed their pages up. Your Internet provider may even be using Google’s DNS to resolve site names to machine addresses. Each time you touch Google (whether knowingly or unknowingly), it learns about you so it can better sell you to advertisers.
I knew it wasn’t free!
If you thought Google was running a charity, you were wrong. Google’s in this to make money — and you are the product that’s being sold!
Just how much does Google make by “selling you”? According to Asymco, Google makes about US$6.30 each year for every person using the Internet — excluding people in China. That doesn’t sound like very much, does it?
If we assume there are 5 billion people outside of China, and that half of those are using the Internet, that’s 2.5 billion people. Multiply that by $6.30 and you’re quickly approaching $16 billion — per year. Put another way, that’s 16 thousand million dollars! That $6.30 per person per year doesn’t seem quite so small any more, does it?
That’s assuming a lot. Half of the planet with regular access to the Internet may seem a bit high, and you’re probably right. But that’s where Android comes into the picture. Android is Google’s way of getting relatively inexpensive devices connected to the Internet, so more people have access to it — and so Google has access to them.
That’s pretty creepy
Yes, it may seem pretty creepy on the surface, but remember, it’s you that’s asking Google to find whatever it is you’re looking for. Whether that’s an article on gardening, the phone number of the nearest Italian restaurant, or the email address of an old friend, you want Google to be able to find that information and show it to you immediately.
While you may not have considered all the mechanization that drives the machine, it’s doing exactly what you want it to — and you want it to be even better and do even more.
What else is Google up to these days? Have you heard about what we think may be Google’s new Smart Home Division? Or does all this creepy talk make you long for something funny? Regardless of where your loyalties fall, Pocketnow is your one-stop source for breaking news, reviews, and tech editorials — we’ve got you covered!