Saturday, April 19, 2014

Who's scared of Google?

I've noticed the curious outcry of Springer's CEO in an open letter to Google's CEO a few days ago, in which he laments his company's dependence on the Tech giant, after it was picked up by different media outputs, such as the BBC and FAZ.NET.

Sure, it is easy to get scared of Google as they become more influential and powerful. But what made them so powerful? The truth is that the founders of Google have understood how valuable information and knowledge is and have implemented their strategy of saving, processing and making information and knowledge accessible. In fact, they go beyond that. They have understood which information is the most relevant and valuable, they've build the appropriate filters, built alliances (e.g. they've backed Mozilla with $300 million to be the default search engine in Firefox) and they've undermined this with their famous moonshots (self-driving cars) and their acquisitions (e.g. one of my favourite "start ups" Nest Labs). They've built a successful business around a vision and they've followed that vision, filling it with life step by step. They've done so without compromising their business model, they've rather used their successful business model to realize their vision step by step.

I do not want to defend them, Google does not need anyone who defends them. Instead, we should think for ourselves how much we'd like Google to manage the flow of information and knowledge in our lives. Google has two faces, there is the friendly face to the consumer, which the complacent consumer of the 21st century really likes to see. That consumer (or user in some cases) is all too happy to let Google worry about how to get from point A to point B, how to back-up our emails and data, where to publish our blog (guilty as charged), or find out what facebook's URL was again, and not pay anything for it. The other face is the one it shows to its costumer: To advertisers, media and publishers etc. Virtually anyone who advertises online. While users/consumers (Should we start calling them consusers?) started getting scared of Google because of privacy issues long ago, it's more than interesting to see a costumer like Springer crying out at this point.

I find it interesting and curious in particular as they've been all too happy to exploit an extortionist business model. Like other academic publishing houses, they charge academic libraries and other institutions horrendous prices for access to information that was generated, researched, and reviewed from predominantly public sources of funding. A paper I published for a conference in 2010 is available at Springer for $29.95. If you search for this article using Google Scholar, you'll find a link to the article provided by Springer but ironically also a link to the full thesis which is available on the UW Madison servers FOR FREE and it's even much more detailed than the paper.

After all, this whole issue reminds me of a short video from CollegeHumor I've seen recently: "If Google was a guy". We are all just way too lazy to do the job Google is doing for us! Okay again, guilty as charged, I guess...

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