Wed Nov 16th, 2005 at 03:23:58 PM EST
Google has just launches the beta version of a fascinating new product, which relates clearly to the powers of self-publishing that the advent of blogs has brought into existence, and which seems to open a large spectrum of promising possibilities for making information freely available.
The product is Google Base, and it can be found at the URL: http://base.google.com.
Where Googles main search engine functions by letting automated processed, called 'bots', crawl the web and gather information by analyzing webpages, which are then indexed and stored in Googles humongous database, Google Base takes another approach - the opposite approach it would seem. Instead of attempting to let programs search and index the information on the web, Google Base invites everybody who has information or items that they wish to make searchable and available, to submit a description of the information or the items to Google, who will then index it and even host the information if necessary.
The items gathered in this way can be given keywords and attributes by the submitters, and can thus be categorized and searched more efficiently than the items indexed by Googles bots. And while the Google bots can only index information already available on the web, the users of Google base can submit information that will make objects with no Internet presence, searchable through google. Even objects that only exists in the submitter's memory or as private documents, such as private food recipes or university papers.
Google Base opens up lots of possibilities, many which I am doubtless not even able to imagine. Much in the same way that the easy access to self-publishing by the way of weblogs opened up a world of possibilities that we are witnessing now.
A composer who wishes for people to be able to search his works will easily be able to enter them all into Google Base with descriptions, attributes and keywords attached, as well as contact information and directions on how to obtain the works. Immediately everyone who chooses to search for, for example 12-tone music (if that's one of the attributes or keywords the composer has chosen as descriptive) will be able to find the compositions, even if they only exists in a drawer in the composers home.
The same example can easily be applied to a writer with unpublished material, an artist who can take pictures of his work and easily let everybody who searches for art with certain attributes, has a certain style, or relates to some keywords, and so on and so on.
All the information in Google Base is tagged by the submitters with definitions of type, with attributes and descriptions, that gives far more options for searching, than information in the basic Google index, and there's no limit as to what kinds of objects or types of information can be listed in this database. It's very worthwhile to look through some of the already existing entries to get an idea of the possibilities.
Google Base is just the latest examples of a row of new products being launched by Google in pursuit of their stated goal of making all the information of the world searchable (at the moment, a world obviously centered around the US). Google Maps makes searching for maps and satellite images of locations possible, Google Ride Finderlets you search for taxis, limousines or shuttles in your area (if your area happens to be one of the few American cities currently available for searching) and the ambitious Google Printaims to make all printed books available for full text search through Google. A bizarre example of this searchability is the site http://www.mapsexoffenders.com/ that utilizes Google's search API to let visitors search for sex offenders in the USA.
Obviously being able to use Google to search for far more than just text of websites opens up incredible possibilities. Being able to search for keywords or sentences in all kinds of books - fiction, poetry, research or philosophy - in the same way as we can search the web, opens up new ways of readings and new options for doing research. And the possibility of searching through all of Googles ever expanding archives - the web index, the new Google Base, Google Maps, Google Print, Google Local, Google Video, etc. - will be world changing in many ways.
But Google is of course not just some benevolent entity with a noble goal of making information as freely available as possible. They are opening up access to all kinds of information in an incredible way, but this is not their business as such. What generates the profit that keeps Googles new flock of shareholders happy, is not supplying information to the public, but serving ads to the people.
Every service offered by Google, is ultimately meant as a vehicle for advertising, whether it enables personal conversations (as G-Mail) or indexing of whatever information whomever might consider searchable. All the information in the giant archive of Google, serves the purpose of a desirable supplement for targeted ads - at least from a certain point of view.
Archives of all kinds are never just something outside, never just pure means for retrieving or storing information. Our way of thinking, our possibility of situating ourself in a time, of having a history and a future, our possibility of inheriting - knowledge, culture, language, humanity - always relates to archives. In his book 'Archive Fever' (not yet included in Google Print's collection, but available and fully searchable on amazon.com) the French philosopher Jacques Derrida writes on the archive:
The archive, as printing, writing, prosthesis, or hypomnesic technique in general is not only the place for stocking and for conserving an archivable content of the past which would exist in any case, such as, without the archive, one believes it was or will have been. No, the technical structure of the archiving archive also determines the structure of the archiveable content even in its very coming into existence and in its relationship to the future. The archivization produces as much as it records the event.
I don't have time now, to go through the kind of thinking that lies behind this quote, or to say much about it. But if we accept that the technical structure of the archiving archive is not something merely secondary to the contents of the archive, then we have to pose some questions to the kind of archives the engineers at Google are currently creating.
All the fascinating projects of Google seems to hint at a future - that is already a now, already here - where all information gets linked to advertising. Where the archive of what we could call our tertiary memory, the memory that could seem to be clearly outside of our own internal memory, stored in various archives outside our heads, where the archive makes this memory seem much closer to us than ever before, much easier to recall, to repeat, to bring back, to bring present, through all kinds of searchability. But where all the information that this tertiary memory brings to us - from books, from people all over the world, from close friends sending us emails - is always linked to the supplemented ads, aimed at reaching our unconscious desires as well as at creating them.
More and more we will have almost instantly available quotes on specific subjects from books we never read, or reviews and opinions of films we haven't seen from all kinds of source. Ideas, thoughts and discussions on all kinds of subjects will be, and are already, readily available, and can easily be found by navigating through a few categories or typing a few keywords. And all this will be, and are already, linked to targeted advertising.
What happens to when almost all communication, when philosophical works on communication, music recorded in some guys garage, mails from the family as well as streets in cities or cooking recipes, when all this gets attached to commercials, to ads, to a supplement coming from companies, from politicians, from interest groups or governments?