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Big (evil?) Google

Jackie Mirandola Mullen | Sunday, September 13, 2009

Funny how some take-overs are evil and some are welcome, isn’t it?

The government taking over our health care system: evil (especially when “taking over” doesn’t have any concrete meaning).

Microsoft taking on the world in the highly intimidating figure of Bill Gates: evil.

Wal-Mart buying out every little “Ma and Pa” grocery store to provide cheap alternatives: evil.

Google providing more and more free* Internet services and applications: awesome.

We overlook the corporate domination of one of the biggest companies in Internet services because it’s fun to use. We think it’s creative, witty and intuitive. Why would you hate a company like that?

I fully realized my personal devotion to Google two weeks ago when Gmail stopped working for those long couple hours. Surely you all noticed as well. Having those two hours of life in which communication was forced to transpire only verbally, when scheduling had to be done with hand onto paper books (do those muscles still exist in my hand?), and when documents had to be saved on standard MS Word and not Google Docs was painful, difficult to accept and even made it tough to find alternative things to do.

It was obviously very traumatic.

But the whole incident got me thinking; what would we do, as a global Internet-based community, if Google stopped working?

According to various outside estimates (when you control search engines, it’s easy to keep your secrets un-findable), Google has somewhere between 500,000 and 900,000 servers. Google’s yearly revenue in 2008 was $27.8 billion, from which they made about $6.63 billion in profits. Their gross profits from last year are approximately equal to total revenue of the number two Internet search engine, Yahoo! ($7.2 billion) – that’s Yahoo!’s revenue to Google’s profits.

Not only is Google’s net revenue more than the revenues of Amazon.com, Ebay and Yahoo! combined, but their trusted, easy-to-use and sleek services expand daily. Google has released the Android as a competitor of the i-Phone, Google Chrome to rival Microsoft’s long-standing Internet Explorer, Picasa Web Albums to compete with Facebook’s easy-to-share albums and GoogleMaps – well, they took out MapQuest a long time ago. Google partners with NASA (“Google Mars”), provides search and ad options to MySpace (which Google paid $900 million for) and owns YouTube (sold for $1.65 billion in stock).

That sounds like a giant to me.

But how can you hate Google? Everything is free. Picasa combines Photoshop and Facebook into a touch-up, shared, orderly masterpiece. The organizational theory behind every Google App makes so much sense that it often changes perception. Why didn’t I write my calendars out in such a crisp, block format before I started using Google Calendar? How could you possibly expect to drive somewhere new and not have an idea of what the street looks like, either from the road or from the sky?

Google differs from the other evil takeovers in that it actually works. They are taking over not solely because they are that adept at business, but because they are that adept at technology, psychology and design.

There have certainly been some anti-trust fears, such as in 2008 when Google wanted to allow Yahoo! to advertise on its pages, which would have given the combined advertising force control of 81 percent of all searches. The U.S. Department of Justice intervened to stop that deal.

But when a company’s motto is “Don’t be evil,” it is hard to label it as such. How do you vilify something that your daily structure depends on? Even if they read your e-mails and tailor advertisements to your private written words, even if they make 99 percent of their $27.8 billion revenue from ads targeted to (and effectively working on) you and me, even if they hold on to your entire Internet search history, you can’t seem to hate them. Why?

Because if their servers went down, we would go down, too. They have so much information that we all consider “safe,” beyond the limits of our crash-able computers. We disregard the fact that their servers are human, too. Okay, maybe fallible is a better word choice than human, but wanting to call them human is telling.

So here at the conclusion-drawing part of the column, I’m left without a sketchpad. Whether Google is good or bad may even be irrelevant. It works, and it works well. Companies make money when people actually enjoy using their services. Just be aware, the next time you protest Big Government, that you got to the Web site of that ranting blog through Big Google.

Jackie Mirandola Mullen is a senior history and German major. She can be reached (via Gmail) at jmirando@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.