Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Google and the Suburbs

The London Review of Books has an interesting "review" of two books about Google. I put "" around review because I can find barely any mention of the books in the interesting article called "Google Id" by John Lancaster. The article is more a review of Google and its founders, Larry Page and Sergei Brin and a musing on the significance of a company "wired straight into the global id."

I was struck by the last paragraph, hence the title:
"The best historical analogy for where Google is today probably comes from the time when the railroads were being built. Everyone knew that trains and railways would change the world, but no one predicted the invention of suburbs. Google, and the increased flow of information on which it rides and from which it benefits, is the railway. I don’t think we’ve yet seen the first suburbs."

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

So true



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George said...

I read this article the other day, and didn't even realize it was supposed to be a review until I got to the very end.

But that quote about the growth of suburbs is a definite keeper. It's going into my stump speech post haste!

Andy Havens said...

That railway/suburbs reference is odd, IMO, since the suburbs are a direct effect of automobiles, not railways.

The railroads *did* have all kinds of unforseen secondary effects, of course. One of my favorites -- and one that might relate to Google -- being the growth of the mail-order catalog business.

Early retailers couldn't afford to ship individual orders to customers in the growing parts of the west/midwest during the mid 1800's. Even when the railroads first got started, and prices on shipping dropped, sending a single sewing machine out to Ma and Pa McFee in East Overshoe, Nebraska was way more expensive than building it, and put the price out of their reach. But the railroad owners understood that building the population of the west would benefit them (as they owned lots of the land), and so they allowed the early catalog companies to ship individual orders to homes and farms free of charge. The space that those early retail, consumer-goods orders took up on a huge train full of "lumber, coal and hay" was miniscule, but helped provide incentive to more and more people to "go west," and make their lives more comfortable.

How many small businesses and/or groups have benefited from Google (and other centralized Web aggregators) that wouldn't have been able to "go it" on their own? Google's AdSense program provides a way for lots of little guys to do something very complex, across a huge swath of the infosphere, pretty easily.

So, yeah. The suburbs. What's coming "down the pike?" We probably won't know until it's well past us.