Dutch version: Informatie Professional
9 (2005) nr. 6 (juni) blz. 15

The googlification of the whole world



Original column in Dutch, translated for an internationally attended course "Mediatrends" at the "Institute for Media & Information Management" (MIM)

Eric Sieverts

Recently I returned from a roundtrip through Florida. I managed to avoid Disney World, as well as - less on purpose - the region around St. Petersburg and Tampa Beach. Indeed, there is a St. Petersburg in Florida, and also a Bagdad by the way. This last flanking movement may have been not so clever after all. Not just because St. Petersburg houses a museum with a famous Salvador Dali collection, but also because - back home - it was our director Peter van Gorsel who had to draw my attention to a cool Flash movie, made by the Special Project Division of the Museum of Media History at the Tampa Bay Federal District.

Contrary to the Dali museum, this Media museum turned out not to exist in reality, as a matter of fact. This 8 minutes Flash movie by Robin Sloan en Matt Thompson, at http://www.broom.org/epic/, looks back in time from the year 2014, the year that the New York Times went offline. A sonorous documentary voice-over tells about the history and the origins of EPIC, the "Evolving Personalized Information Construct", a new personalised medium developed by search engine giant Google, which had taken over the role of the classical news media:

Everyone participates to create a living, breathing mediascape. However, the Press, as you know it, has ceased to exist. The Fourth Estate's fortunes have waned. 20th Century news organizations are an after-thought, a lonely remnant of a not too distant past.
On Sunday, March 9 2014, Googlezon unleashes EPIC.
The 'Evolving Personalized Information Construct' is the system by which our sprawling, chaotic mediascape is filtered, ordered and delivered. Everyone contributes now - from blog entries, to phone-cam images, to video reports, to full investigations.
EPIC produces a custom contents package for each user, using his choices, his consumption habits, his interests, his demographics, his social network - to shape the product.

The story extrapolates the existing interest of search engine giants - and especially Google - for other media and techniques, as can be inferred from their acquisition policy and business cooperations. Interest in blogs and in personal e-mail and social networks like Friendster. Interest in TiVo, the personal digital TV recording service, and in techniques which are used by Amazon to generate recommendations for its customers, based on detailed knowledge of their behaviour, specific taste and interests.

A combination of these trends would eventually result in the merger of Google and Amazon into a new company Googlezon and in the development of new media products. All of this based on the unparallelled and unlimited Google Grid search and storage system, in which individual users can even store their personal data and files. All of this resulting in news messages which are dynamically generated, personally for each individual user, based on their personal preferences, interest, social networks, and personal taste. Classical newspapers could no longer compete with this new medium.

Today, in 2014, The New York Times has gone offline in feeble protest to Googlezon’s hegemony, but Times has become a print-only newsletter for the elite and the elderly.

For some of us this may seem the ultimate result of the development of highly personalised current awareness services, which once began with SDI services of online hosts in the eighties of the previous century. For others perhaps the ultimate nightmare, the prospect of news and information systems that merely play up to their users, that - under the veil of being a news service - tell any of their users just those things which they like to hear.

Far fetched fiction? Already now, on the basis of self-specified filters, we can read or get presented just only those blogs that are written by people somewhere on the internet who have the same opinions and beliefs. In this way we no longer need to have an open mind for other ideas and opinions, which diverge from those of ourselves. In an article, published december last year in a special issue of the Communications of the ACM (vol. 47, no. 12, p. 57 - December 2004), completely devoted to blogs, Sunstein called this even a threat for democracy.
Still something positive? Yes. This vision of the future also predicts Google's eventual victory over Microsoft.

After all, it was OK that I was already back home when I first heard about EPIC. In the virtual world of my Internet PC at home, I could agreeably look at the movie and even search for the complete transcript of the text - with Google of course. In my little tent, amidst the armadillos and the very real mosquitoes of Florida's coastal swamps, I was not yet online - and had other priorities as a matter of fact.

A full transcript of the spoken text in this movie (more important than the purely illustrative visuals) can for instance be found at masternewmedia.org or IIS Brazil.

© Informatie Professional (Otto Cramwinckel Uitgever, Amsterdam) en Eric Sieverts

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