Streaming issues? Report here
CapeTalk_2021_Top_Corner 1000 x 1000 CapeTalk_2021_Top_Corner 1000 x 1000
Best of CapeTalk
21:00 - 00:00

Up Next: Early Breakfast with Africa Melane
See full line-up
Best of CapeTalk
21:00 - 00:00
Business Unusual

How do I know a lot can happen in 23 years? I Googled it

29 September 2021 7:15 PM
Digital technology

The search giant is 23 years old, it is mostly amazing but doesn’t say don’t be evil anymore

I have covered the ups and downs of Google a good many times for Business Unusual. It was the definitive disruptor to begin with but at only 23 it is now a massive global company with few that have not felt its effects although what its next 23 years will look like may not be as rosy.

I am not saying it is no longer disruptive, instead like most if not all very large companies it begins to disrupt itself. Things it set out to solve become reasons it can’t, but that comes later.

Google Doodles

The Google Doodle for Monday 27 September was to mark the 23rd birthday of the company that is officially called Alphabet. It has done so each year since 2009. The doodle itself is older with the first created by the founders themselves to show they were at the Burning Man Festival in 1998 and so out of office. The first official doodle was created for Bastille Day in 2000, its popularity has resulted in the feature having been used on many days of the year and in the almost 8 000 days since, half have had a doodle to mark it. Few companies could say they have had that many logo changes.

One of the products I use is Google photos, a backup of the images taken on my Android phone. Initially it was just a way to save some space on my phone but it has become one of the most impressive photo cataloguing options available. Besides searching for photos by when they were taken you can search for who is in them, where they were taken, what you were doing or for any objects in them.

A picture is worth a thousand words

On Monday I realised that a random picture that I came across of my living room from 2011 included the TV in the shot.

It looked odd. It was a Cathode Ray TV (CRT). In the space of just 10 years, a TV type that has been the only way to watch since their introduction in South Africa in the 70s and globally many years before looked ancient. A giant block of glass and plastic with a screen that is the basic 32 inch size these days. At the time it was a big step up from the standard 54cm TV (which is the entry level computer monitor now). I had recently got it second hand and loved the big albeit low resolution image - CRT displays are measured in the lines on the screen not pixels, but were so low that even the most basic mobile phones use higher resolution.

Also worth mentioning is that South Africa uses metric units and we referred to TV in metric sizes until then, but are more likely to use inches now because the screens are so big, using lengths more than 100 cm is awkward and typically would become meter based. But even the inch scale is being replaced in favour of the horizontal pixel count, which is how we get 4K TV and now the larger 8K screens.

That is a lot of significant development in a really short space of time. It whizzed passed plasma to LCD to LED lit to OLED and the range of superfine incredibly bright display methods we get now.

It also started at eye-watering costs of as much as R100 000 for an early plasma display to an eye watering display at a fraction of the cost.

They are not just lighter on your pocket, they are wafer thin and incredibly light too and they are almost all internet and app enabled. The CRT has become the CTV - connected TV’s

We don’t just watch TV, in fact watching live broadcasting is becoming less common than watching anything else like streamed TV or videos or playing music and of course you can listen to this radio station and even playback the podcast of the show should you wish.

After looking at the photo, I did a search of my photos with a TV in them. I have dozens from the last decades. My library goes back to the first from 2006. Most until about 2010 are CRT’s, from 2010 to 2013 the flat panels start appearing and after 2013 there are only flat panel TV’s. Random photos sometime with just a small part of the frame in shot are all flat panel TV’s

I am sure during those three years there would have been lots of discussion about if or rather when and which panel TV to get.

But after that it looks like the shift had happened. Children born from 2010 would never know the goggle box because they are not boxes anymore.

Things change fast and slow

Modern technology is typically like that. Changes from one year to the next look small. But in five or ten year gaps, things look to change a lot.

And so we return to the subject of Google and how it has managed to live through enough technological change to warrant 4000 logos in just 23 years, much of which tracked the positive improvements in the physical hardware with software and service improvements to match and while the norm now, most are provided free which is something that early tech adopters are still surprised by.

Besides the TV, there have been huge changes to many other tech aspects of our lives from the physical devices like phones, lights watches and even cars to the services or products that have become part of the them from banking to maps and navigations, social interactions and messaging and any number of transport related services from taxis to online shopping and package delivery.

Crystal balls from 2004

Google enabled, grew and then dominated many of those sectors.

In its 23 years it has started many new projects, acquired dozens and dozens of companies and while it still has about 100 different products, it has killed off twice as many.

A book by Dave Eggars that was recently released talks about what might happen when a search and social media giant merges with an online shopping giant. The book called The Every imagines what it may be like if Google and Amazon were one company.

The original in 2016 called The Circle explored what social media with no privacy could become.

But long before both of them was a project by Robert Sloan in 2004. It too imagined what might happen given the path Google was on.

The clip was called Epic 2014 and saw Microsoft acquiring the then dominant Friendster to create a social and news aggregator giant which was rivalled by Google merging with Amazon to combine search, sales and their purchase of Blogger which was seen as the future for writing and journalism.

It imagined that by 2010 the news would be run by software companies that the New York Times had reverted to only publishing a print edition. The big news came in 2014 with the Google and Amazon merger which became known as Googlezon to release Epic, the Evolving Personalised Information Construct. Users would get a personalised news feed crafted from the contribution of creators which would be compensated in relation to the popularity of their pieces.

This was suggested in 2005 and quite accurately describes the YouTube model for compensating creators. It is also worth noting that the original video is no longer available from the site created for it, to see the full version you need to search for one of the copies that were uploaded to YouTube.

Lessons for the future

Any size company can make mistakes, but big companies need big projects to make a big impact which could turn out to be a very big mistake.

One of the largest, I think, is Google’s Project Dragonfly. After having tried to compete with search engines in China it was told it had to comply with the ruling Communist Party’s rules to restrict and report on what users were searching for. From 2006 till 2010 it tried to find a way to provide a workable solution but in the end chose to withdraw.

In 2018 it looked like it was back and ready to comply with Chinese authorities to get access to over a billion new users and all the advertising spend that comes with that.

Staff leaked the project which Google tried to downplay before pausing and finally dropping in 2019.

The company was founded to make the internet more discoverable and yet 20 years later it was willing to work with a government that demanded the opposite.

More recently questions have been raised by its willingness to comply with Russian government demands to remove or block information available to people in Russia.

This as it faces challenges to how it has limited fair competition in promoting products in Europe and for bias in its news results in the US.

It is not alone is being scrutinised for its business practices. Most of the tech giants have been put in the spotlight for issues with their business practices. Many companies are being challenged simply because they operated in areas that lacked sufficient regulation in the first place.

Others have created products that did not exist and so there was no regulation

In some respects each time a new technology emerges there is a period of optimism, growth, the emergence of very dominant player, accusations of unfairness and the issue with too little oversight. This is simply big tech’s passage through this.

It is hard to say which of the big players will still be around in the next 23 or 46 years, but there is no doubt about the impact they have had and time will tell if it was good or bad, but as long as we have capitalistic system we will continue to have these periods of innovation and disruption and the issues that creates.

Hopefully a giant will rise in Africa one day, maybe we will call it Amazoogle.

This article first appeared on 702 : How do I know a lot can happen in 23 years? I Googled it

29 September 2021 7:15 PM
Digital technology

More from Business Unusual