Tuesday, November 15

EPIC 2008 instead of 2015?

At the ONA Conference, during Jeff's session - one of the editors brought up a discussion about the EPIC 2015 - and how google (then dubbed Googlezon) would bring about the power of personalized publishing to each user of the web. The old-school machines would fall, and google would rule. Of this discussion - two factors came clear to me to make this "happen". One would be the construction of the Google GRID in 2005, combination of all of their acquisitions into a platform with high bandwidth, limitless processing power and shared disk spaceowned by google. Second, would be the era of personal publishing - combining blogs, media broadcasting, and Amazon's recommendation engine to create personalized content coming from any source. The growth of this effort would culminate in the destruction of the old-style media houses by 2015 - or at least a denuding of them by then.

But, while this story has the sound of sci-fi, could it be true? Let's take a look at the two major components and map the concepts:

Google Grid - is it here?
Being a recovering telecoms product director, my eye was intrigued by a post in CNET last year (see "Google wants 'dark fiber'") for a "Strategic Negotiator". The role consists of being the procurement person for google in various geographies on the search for dark fiber (the basic component for long haul data transmission), colocation (the server space within the data centers that your telecoms companies connect to) and bandwidth (how to connect everyone else in the world to the google Network). Now, most companies try to consolidate their server farms to where people need them most - which is usually at head-ends (liberal use of the term) of networks so that most users can access the content. Very few companies (like Akamai) make use of distributed infrastructure because of the operations costs associated with it - which is one of the reasons why Akamai is able to offer major content players (like Yahoo! and ABCNews.com) distribution of content around the world at high performance (imaging if you were in Florida and had to wait for content coming from China - how long it might take). But google is not satisfied with just having content distributed - google is a processing and database platform. You can not just have discrete components of media (like images and video) sitting in caches for people to pull down. You need processing power to:

  • analyze your personal take on the world (does my google search bar have the information to distinguish that I mean New York Yankees versus Yankee Doodle Dandy and can it interface with the main search index?)
  • analyze your communities take on the world (does the story about Michael Brown in New York City during the time of the Democratic primary mean the Michael Brown for FEMA or the third-place candidate Michael Brown for Public Advocate?)
  • integrate the meme-wave coming from other geographies and timezones (prepare for caching information on the avian flu pandemic in the US servers after the BBC and Sta News has hyped it up in Europe)
So you are google. You are considering all of these services - and have to manage them across the world - since you are the global leader on web services. Consider that AdWords is integrated into *everything* - able to place adverts onto web spaces at the appropriate time when you (the user) need it. And you the user could be in Alachua, Florida or Callis, France or Dalain, China - to optimize the serving - you need "local knowldge".

So what is google doing? The team of strategic negotiators is growing (they are still hiring) - consider the posting went up in January 2005. And, if hiring has gone in a normal pace - they have a team of ten people negotiating deals for rack space, dark fibre and transit (internet connectivity to your Internet provider). These people have been negotating a network infrastructure that will rival the world's telecom providers (and financial industry) to ensure scalability and availability in a 24/7/365 world of immediate information retrieval. And what makes up this network? Let's call it the Google GRID.

Personalized News Retrieval
We have been inundated with the concepts of blogs (see Fortune, Forbes and Business Week for the commercial impact) and even in EPIC 2015, there is a great deal done with the face google purchased Blogger, Picassa and launched google News. Then let us combine the real time analysis of blog feeds by services like PubSub, Feedster, Bloglines, Technorati, and BlogPulse - combine it with the insatiable desire to create and publish by many people - and you have a source of incredible information and commentary that is beginning to flood the world. At one point, blogging was a passion for enthusiasts - a form of diarization that allowed people to comment on the world and share their thoughts with others within the social community known as the blogosphere. Interestingly enough, the blogosphere brought back the concept of linking between pages - though the use of blogrolls and referencing (as I have been doing) - the intelligence and implied authority between blogs is created by the linking between topical memes and the links found within. So blogs become a democratic way of determining the communal intelligence on issues (much like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire's "Ask the Audience"). One great place to learn more about the "wisdom of the crowds" is at Christian Crumlich's The Power of the Many blog.

So what am I getting at? What made google such a powerhouse is the fact that google was able to use backlinking so effectively, and through the use of sensors on your browsers (take a look in your Firefox, Mac Safari and your personally installed google Toolbars) and the pages you visit when there are "Ads by Google". google is now awash in a sea of data on all of us - and can take what we look at - recraft it into what we see on google News - and create our own view on the world.

But is this true? Do I really see something different than others? All I can say is I did an interesting experiment in the past couple of weeks. I have been an avid fan of Mozilla Firefox since being introduced to it in the past 18 months - and have been religiously been using it for a while - completely neglecting my use of Internet Explorer. Both browsers have the google News as my homepage - and one afternoon, recently, I opened them both. What was the biggest surprise was that, while still in the same city, geography and (presumably) same IP address - the google News was slightly different on different browsers. Most of the stories were the same - but they were in different orders - and different content showing. Just to be sure, I cleared my cache on both browsers - and still, they were different.

Is the future of EPIC 2015 almost here? Could it be very close? You and I will still learn...

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