Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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740 words

Nope this isn’t a reference to old-school Mac programming, but to Google’s ubiquity these days. Now they’ve betaed – or launched, as they say these days – Google Base, which is, um, a free form database or something.

Suspending the paranoia for a second I must admit that I keep being intrigued by what they do at Google. They really try out many new things, not minding that it may not be clear what they could be good for at the beginning. And they let people play around with their toys to see what they could be used for. Google Base – which is quite a bold name in my opinion as it aims at the Google = Data equation – looks like just such a toy. Right now I consider it to be something from useless to absurd for myself. But it’s quite obvious that there are many things you might want to do which require a database-like storage. And Google seem to provide just that.

But without all the fuss you might have to go through to set one up yourself. I’m really curious how long it will take until people come up with cool uses for that service. I’m sure those will be better than Google’s own first suggestions along the lines of recipes.

Once I’ve appreciated the general spirit Google show and their typical boldness and scalability that I suspect to be behind this, I can go back to my usual paranoia mode. Sotring your data with Google may be somewhat critical. Both in terms of reliability (where I suppose them deciding to close down the server might be a bigger issue than the system failing for technical reasons) and in terms of privacy. As you can’t really store any (unencrypted) private data on their service, I wonder whether they’ll start selling private Google base servers at some stage. That might be a sweet idea. People can learn how to deal with that system and possibly even design and try out stuff using Google’s internet servers… and once they’re convinced it’s good enough they might just buy one of those and use it at home.

As I said, I am curious. But looking at their current offerings, I remain a little sceptical. Not only will this be a database full of crap – just look at this alleged Tiramisu recipe, it also happens to have Report Bad Item links where bad has all kinds of strange meanings. What will happen to bad records? And who is to judge this. Should I label that wrong Tiramisu recipe as mislabeled or misleading?

Finally, Google Base has crappy URLs. Sure, with that kind of broad service it may be hard to get better ones, but people have been discussing for years that it’s good to have somewhat meaningful and easy-to-remeber URLs. And very long numbers just don’t fit into that scheme to well. So you’re completely back to bookmarks or at the mercy of Google’s randomly changing search results. Neither of which is progress. In addition, it’ll be interesting to see whether other search engines will be allowed to index the contents of Google’s database.

Which brings me right back to the forefront of paranoia. If Google won’t share the index for that site with others their position will be even stronger than it is anyway (and I already have difficulties understanding how people can claim there is any strong competition left… judging from our server logs, the non-Google referrals from search results are at most ten per cent).

And while I’m at this, let me mention Google Analytics as well. Looking at their self-advertisements it looks like they’ve made a real effort to give you efficient analysis of the relevant traffic data to, within and from your site. Which is great as most other tools mostly seem to produce numbers of the more or less meaningless kind. But on the other hand this starts looking seriously creepy. It looks like via their Ad program and this kind of service they’ll start having little web bugs on a large and growing percentage of web pages. And with that they should be able to analyse web-usage on an unprecedented scale. On a scale that’ll for sure be interesting to the MBAs of the web 1.0 era and the social scientists of the web 2.0 era but also one that’ll give you the Big Brother feeling of the 1984 era.

November 17, 2005, 1:55

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