Archive for January, 2010

Who Needs Google?

January 13, 2010

Who Needs Google?

Everyone loves Google…right?  That’s my impression, based on the number of computers that come into my shop, with Google set as the home page.  Never mind that many of those computers were “set” to the Google homepage robotically/automatically (torn away from the default MSN home page, which was also set robotically-/automatically).  Do most users even know how it got that way, or how to change their home page?

As a free-thinking computer expert who always keeps an eye on real (as opposed to imaginary) user benefits, I ask myself, “seriously now…what good is Google?”  The question isn’t easy to answer!  As Oscar Wilde said, “Just because a man is willing to die for something doesn’t make it true.”

The Annoying, Space-Wasting Empty “Google” Search Page

Since the beginnings of the industry, screen real estate (like waterfront real estate) has always been at a premium.  The windowing technologies developed at the Xerox PARC laboratory (and subsequently commercialized by Apple and Microsoft) help users cope with the severe limitations of diagonal square inches.  Lately, the trend is towards larger and larger monitors (combined with smaller and smaller system units).  All this is fine with me. 

SO — why in God’s name would people set their home page to the Google search page, only a small percentage of which actually serves a useful and practical functional, and the bulk of which is occupied by 1) Google’s logo (occasionally playful and entertaining, but always large) and 2) lots of useless white space? 

I mean, I don’t love Yahoo that much either, but your typical Yahoo start page (my choice) is packed with information.  As I say to people (only “half-jokingly”), “if they drop the bomb, I want to know about it.”  Thanks to the latest user-configurable features, it’s easy to rearrange your home page so that the stuff you want to see (news, financial information, and yes, the search function) is “front and center,” whereas stuff you don’t want (links to Lady Gaga’s Blog, Astrology Charts, and so on) are down and out of the way.  Doesn’t it make sense to make the most of your home page’s functionality and utility?

I had one client (who turned out to be a bonehead) start telling me how he wanted less information on his home page, not more.  He soon drifted into La-La Land, describing the “serenity” of the Google home page.  I knew right then and there that this individual (who would probably have been better served by a Macintosh than a PC, in any case) was well and truly and fully hypnotized by The Google Phenomenon.  Or maybe he was drunk…

Is Google’s Search “Better” ???

Oh yeah?  Prove it to me!  Saying something is so doesn’t make it so, Picard.  Many fans actually think Google “invented” internet search, such is the power and ubiquity of Google’s brainwashing efforts.  Old War Horses like me remember that Digital Equipment Corporation’s “Altavista” web search actually pioneered in this area (back when the teenaged Google boys were jerking off to pictures of skyscrapers and luxury yachts), and today there are dozens of web search engines available on the net, many of which offer unique features and functions, such as security and privacy — something you surrender at the door and abandon without hope whenever you use Google search or Google apps. 

Google is pimping every single one of your mouse clicks out there on every street of the information superhighway, for sure.  Someone should create a sound bit that replaces the mouse click with a “ka-ching.”  Oh, right, Google’s done it, sorry. One time I overheard an Apple iPhone software developer telling someone what Google does with the so-called “private” information belonging to every “Gmail” user.  It was astonishing!  The horror!

There are even web search “consolidation” tools, like “WebFerret,” which do a shotgun search on ALL the available search engines (including Google), and provide all the results in one batch — surely more effective than Google alone.  But you won’t see anyone lavishing praise on “WebFerret.”  Who’s even heard of it?   

My experience is that one web search engine is more or less as good as another — it’s hit or miss — sometimes I’ll find what I’m looking for on Yahoo, sometimes I’ll try Google or Bing if Yahoo doesn’t come up with the goods, and as a last resort, I’ll try WebFerret.  A world in which Google is considered the “only” search engine is surely a dystopian nightmare world, like one in which Pizza (or maybe I should say “Liver”‘; Pizza is tasty) is the only available food.  Ugh!

Pearls Before Swine

Mass Commercialization of Internet Search

Remember that sappy commercial from the 1960s (created by “The Ad Council,” which my left-leaning Professors at Brown University taught me was an evil military-industrial-government propaganda machine, designed to inculcate individual citizens with a sense of guilt and responsibility for societal problems which were not, in fact, their fault)?  You know, the one where the Native American on horseback (who was probably some Yiddish Vaudevillian in red greasepaint) looks over the trashed landscape of America and sheds a tear?  Serious stuff, actually, but it was parodied by Wayne and Garth in one of the Wayne’s World films.

ANYWAY, we too can shed a tear over the trashed environment, and shed another one (while we’re at it) for the totally trashed “infosphere,” thanks to the crass commercialization of virtually every square inch of the internet.  Google’s been working on this for years, of course — day and night — but the problem has reached acute proportions.  I notice this inconvenient truth more and more whenever I perform historical research, an activity which, these days, is damn near a “subversive” activity.  Good little Google Androids (more on that gadget later) have one function in life: to buy things!  Thinking is only allowed if you’re “thinking about buying things,” and then only if you follow through!

I was recently trying to find some photographs and information on the “Hotel Walsdorf,” a small but charming hotel which operated in Cannes, France, in the 1940s – 1960s.  Read my lips: I was not looking for hotel accommodations on the Riviera.  I was not seeking cheap rooms, discount tickets, flights or cruises, or the best travel route, or restaurant listings.  But when I searched (I refuse to use the word “Google” as a verb) for the exact phrase “HOTEL WALSDORF,” I got 8,640,000 hits in .39 seconds, not one of which (trust me) actually related to my search phrase, Hotel Walsdorf.  In fact, “Hotel Walsdorf” appeared NOT ONCE, anywhere, in the links that Google served up!

In an ideal world, my search would have returned exactly ZERO hits, and I’d have tried something else.  But then how could the Google boys have extorted — oh, sorry, collected — a penny (or whatever it is) from every single one of those Advertisers (sorry, “sponsored links”) on the Google Advertising Pages (oh, sorry, Google Search Page)? 

That’s all bad enough, believe me, but the blind stupidity and irrelevancy of the returned links (“HOLIDAY INN –  HOTEL WINDSOR – DISCOUNT RATES!!!”) shows how hucksterism has utterly vaniquished real information on the internet; how sales and advertising and marketing is what the internet (or should I say internet search) is ALL ABOUT NOW, and what an idiot somebody like me is for thinking or hoping or believing it should be anything else.

This is truly grevious, in my opinion, and I know just who to blame.  In a balanced world, there would be a mixture of information and commercial opportunities on the internet, and one would know how to seek out one and filter out the other, depending on what one was looking for.  But in the Google dystopia (the word is so accurate that it’s worth using again), it is as though every single television show and movie presentation has been turned into an infomercial; every short story is a sound byte; every novel is a three hundred page sales pitch.  Content is filler.  Advertising is the content. 

The media isn’t the message, Marshall — the ads are the message.

Masterpiece Theater is trying to sell you vacation excursions to England, complete with airplane tickets, accommodations, and pub meals.  Jane Austen is now a stewardess on American Airlines, wearing a tight mini-skirt made of synthetic fibers and a mezza-mezza facelift.  Winston Churchill has morphed into W.C. Fields, offering you a chance to play “The Old Army Game” with him.  The Civil War has become an online video game multiverse, where everybody gets killed but nobody gets hurt.

That’s the new nightmare internet for you, thanks to the dark wizards at Google.  The hippies would have called it a “bad trip,” and (stoned or not) they’d have been right.

Google Apps

Let’s not spend too much time on these unnecessary, overhyped resource-hogs.  Some of us have work to do.


GMAIL: I suppose if you don’t like Hotmail, or Yahoo Mail, or Earthlink Webmail, or Comcast Webmail, or MAC OS X Mail, or AOL Mail, or Opera Mail, or Outlook Express, or Outlook, or Eudora, or Mozilla Thunderbird, or Netscape Mail, or Windows Mail, or Windows Live Mail, then you should definitely take a look at Gmail — with the aforementioned warnings about your web surfing habits (and God knows what else) becoming an open book as a result…

Google Desktop Search: Useless.  Tear it off, watch both your available free screen real estate and system performance improve instantly.

Google Toolbar: Useless.  Tear it off, watch both your available free screen real estate and system performance improve instantly.

Google Earth: Great Toy.  Way Cool.  Wow!  The cyberspace equivalent of the hula hoop.  Can’t wait for the 3-D version.  Is there a James Cameron in the house?

Google-Whatever-It-Is-They’ve-Come-Up-With-As-An-Alternative-To-Microsoft Office:  Get serious.

Google Android/Nexus/Etc:

“Another iPhone Knockoff.”
–Forbes Magazine

This one is SO easy.  Who needs it?  Who cares?  If you’re an iPhone kind of girl or guy (Madonna), get an iPhone.  If you’re a Blackberry kind of girl or guy (Obama), get a Blackberry.  If you’re neither (Joe The Plumber, or his wife), get an ordinary cell phone, an LG or Motorola or Samsung or Nokia or something (does it matter?), and leave the e-mail and web surfing and application tasks until you get home.  The Android is an answer to a question nobody asked.  It’s like Ralph Nader running for President, all it does is screw up the vote and help the bad guy win.

Of course, it seems, with Google’s ascendancy, that the bad guys have already won.

Google Chrome: Another fine answer to a question nobody, but nobody, asked.  I guess Google has to do something with all that spare change (anything beats paying one’s fair share of corporate taxes), so they develop unneeded and unwanted applications — like the climber who ascends Mount Everest “because it is there.”  The whole exercise reminds me of Disney’s Fantasia.  After the tremendous (and well-deserved) success of Snow White, Disney had a mid-life crisis and decided he’d shift from popular entertainment to “high-brow” entertainment.  He started wining and dining Stravinski, and when the film was done, Uncle Walt reportedly wept and said “This will make Beethoven.” 

Of course, Fantasia bombed.

In like manner, The Google boys want to “make” the web browser…as if Internet Explorer, Safari, and Firefox don’t have the web browser pretty well made…and the smart phone…as if Apple and Blackberry don’t have that product pretty well invented…and so on and so forth.  Google undoubtedly has a “genius” for what they do, but the monies earned from those quasi-nefarious activities don’t translate into genius, expertise, or aptitude in other areas; throwing heaps of money at a technical problem doth not create (nor equate with) inspiration — or value-added.

The diagnosis and prescription is the same as above:   Useless.  Tear it off, and watch your available screen real estate, free hard drive space, and system performance improve instantly.

The bottom line:  is the Web a better place, now that Google dominates it?  Really? Ask the Tibetans what they think of the Red Chinese, or the Native Americans what they think of Paleface.