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Googled 'Google' lately? Jonathan Rosenberg ponders our connectedness

Barack Obama's inauguration in January and Presidents Day in February got Jonathan Rosenberg thinking. So Google's senior vice president of product management wrote an e-mail. It was meant for his colleagues, but soon it was posted on Google's company blog, and it started to make its way around. It's about the Internet, information, technology, tools, knowledge, democracy — the future.

Michael Kruse, Times staff writer

We are in the midst of what is likely the worst economic situation of our lifetimes. In the US alone, 2.6M people lost their jobs in 2008, followed by nearly 600,000 more last month. . . . Add to that our dependence on fossil fuels, the resulting (and accelerating) climate change, and national security concerns, and you can feel the gravity of this pivotal moment.

President Obama asserted that we will face the moment with what he called new instruments and old values, values that have been "the quiet force of progress throughout history" and which must, once again, define our character. While this reference to the national character was no doubt inspiring for Americans, the mention of "new instruments" was far more relevant to Google. In a way, I felt like he was talking about the Internet, which is the most powerful and comprehensive information system ever invented.

Consider its predecessors. The famed Library at Alexandria, Egypt, was built circa 323 BC for an educated public, which actually meant very few people since the skills of literacy were deliberately withheld from the majority of the population. For several centuries monks were the keepers of the written word, painstakingly transcribing and indexing books as a means of interpreting the word of God.

The first universities came about in the 4th century AD, the first formal encyclopedias didn't appear until the 16th century, the first truly public libraries appeared in the 19th century and proliferated in the 20th. Then suddenly comes the Internet, where, from the most remote villages on the planet, you can reach as much information as is held in thousands of libraries. Access to information has completed its journey from privileged to ubiquitous.

Since the challenges the world faces are, to a large degree, information problems, I believe the Internet is one of the "new instruments" that the President and the world can count on. And how do a great many people use the Internet? What is the first place many of them go when they conduct research, seek answers, do their work and communicate with their friends and family? Google. Ours is much more than a passing role in this next phase of history, rather we have the responsibility and duty to make the Internet as great as it can possibly be. . . .

As we look toward the pivotal year ahead, here are a few observations on the future of the Internet for all of us to assess, consider, and carry as we do our work. . . .

All the world's information will be accessible from the palm of every person. Today, over 1.4 billion people, nearly a quarter of the world's population, use the Internet, with more than 200 million new people coming online every year. This is the fastest growing communications medium in history. How fast? When the Internet was first made available to the public, in 1983, there were 400 servers. Twenty five years later: well over 600 million. …

More than 3 billion people have mobile phones, with 1.2 billion new phones expected to be sold this year. More Internet-enabled phones will be sold and activated in 2009 than personal computers. Twenty-five years ago, Apple launched the Mac as "the computer for the rest of us." Today, the computer for the rest of us is a phone.

This means that every fellow citizen of the world will have in his or her pocket the ability to access the world's information. As this happens, search will remain the killer application. For most people, it is the reason they access the Internet: to find answers and solve real problems.

Everyone can publish, and everyone will. One thing that we have learned in our industry is that people have a lot to say. They are using the Internet to publish things at an astonishing pace. 120K blogs are created daily — most of them with an audience of one. Over half of them are created by people under the age of nineteen. In the US, nearly 40 percent of Internet users upload videos, and globally over fifteen hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. The web is very social too: about one of every six minutes that people spend online is spent in a social network of some type.

Publishing used to be constrained by physical limitations. You had to have a printing press and a distribution network, or a transmitter. No more. Today, most publishing is done by users for users, one-to-one or one-to-many (think of Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia, and YouTube). Free speech is no longer just a right granted by law, but one imbued by technology. . . .

When data is abundant, intelligence will win. Putting the power to publish and consume content into the hands of more people in more places enables everyone to start conversations with facts. With facts, negotiations can become less about who yells louder, but about who has the stronger data. . . .

The Internet allows for deeper and more informed participation and representation than has ever been possible.

The full text of Rosenberg's e-mail can be read at Word for Word is an occasional feature excerpting passages of interest from books, magazines, Web sites and other sources. The text may be edited for space but the original spelling, grammar and punctuation are unchanged.

Googled 'Google' lately? Jonathan Rosenberg ponders our connectedness 02/28/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 28, 2009 3:30am]
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