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Saturday 30 June 2007

Why Google should be careful...

"With great power, comes great responsibility"...this memorable Spiderman quote is getting relevant for Google now, as it was relevant for Microsoft until sometime ago.

I am sure the guys at Google are happy with their new found power, but they need to be careful about using it, as they go on to become the information superpower of the world.

In the next few years (if they have not done already) Google should be able to maintain an information catalog of not only what information people access, but how, where and more. They will also soon be able to map these data patterns to actual identities of people (via orkut for example) and create a virtual database of who, where, how and so on.

Now this might seem attractive to Google's scientists and business guys, but then there are issues. While ownership of patterns of user behavior and using that to provide services may be acceptable to users, ownership of people's identities may not be acceptable. The line between crossing this critical threshold is thin and Google needs to carefully formulate their vision in this context. Much loved Google can soon become much hated.

The internet has done something that world leaders and governments have never wanted to do - break boundaries and create a free world - a true democracy. It has provided people the power to "communicate" and "express" across barriers of geography and social boundaries. This experience of freedom has led to the opening up of minds and a realization of identities beyond the traditional ones of country, religion and local community.

People have now started to carve out both personal and multiple community based identities, that are based not on geography but on personal likes and dislikes. Google and others would be well advised to understand that this social phenomena provides a particular direction for the future - you need to give people ownership of their identities, expression and communication. The space Google and others should and can position themselves in, is that of providing the necessary interfaces and services to help people express and communicate their identities.

This above formulation of "identity networks", will of course, extend to personal identity and community-based identity and expression. However, it will not be a rigid formulation, but an amorphous one with the networks themselves becoming the data-centers interconnected by interfaces provided by service providers like Google and others.

This might well extend beyond the virtual into the real world, with our non-internet social transactions soon being formulated similarly. Large corporations might soon be called upon to give up ownership of material assets to "identity networks" while earn from offering services that facilitate the networks themselves. Employment should give way to shareholding and collaboration.

We are entering a more equal world - the powerful would do well to responsibly facilitate this process by anticipating this change and creating an "inclusive" vision of the world.

3 comments:

Krish said...

"This might well extend beyond the virtual into the real world, with our non-internet social transactions soon being formulated similarly."

I would say the original flow has been from offline reality to online virtuality - what else is caste (Brahmin/Vegetarian/spiritual) and other social groups symbolised? If anything, it can only be a reverse flow.

BTW, I liked your comments on Basab's blog from where I'd been led down here. Most of these people rant and rave because they can't do it in their adopted countries, where their skin color deprives them of the most basic liberties like "right to resent" grossly insulting acts of racism, profiling just because they've got to make a living. They won't admit though...just allow them - that's how they let off some steam...

saumitri said...

I agree Krish, that the original flow of identity networks is from offline reality to the virtual. The human instinct to be associated with identities is inherent in our self expression. This is what is going to be manifested on the net, as has already started to happen.

However, the issue I wanted to talk about is the democratic nature of these networks - something that will be defined by the language of the internet. What the internet has done is to remove the "middleman" who controlled the flow of knowledge (the content providers) and made knowledge common and accessible to everyone.

Kaushik Ghosh said...

There are primarily two counter trends doing their rounds:
1. The Web X.0 is going to witness more and more individuals participate in a somewhat chaotic and micro-cosmic networks. So in a way communities or identities will lose generalizable patterns
2. Communities (online) are getting domesticated. Meaning even if the internet brings on the blurring of boundaries, essentially what is driving community formation is 'Homogeneity'
However that does little to offset your argument about giving these communities their ownership by Google. I don't see that as an important strategic objective of Google. Simply because this community driven networks are going to play out like a self-organizing system and Google would much rather let these be and focus their effort somewhere else like 'unstructured search' or 'Pervasive search'! Remember currently any Google search query can only see about 30% of the total knowledge available on the net. This invisibility of the 70% is primarily due to access restriction or distributed nature of the knowledge artifacts.

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