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The Search for 500 Words on The Search

September 16, 2009

I should start off by saying that John Battelle’s The Search is every bit the fun, fascinating read that Professor Mele (or should we call him Nicco?) promised it would be, especially in the context of the media design classes I’m taking through the School of Education and the MIT Media Lab.  As a design neophyte, it’s really interesting to see the process by which the search (and Google) came into existence.  But could I really crank out an additional 500 words marveling at their problem-solving skills?  Unlikely.

Then I came upon the section where Brin and Page rip apart Novell while interviewing Eric Schmidt for the CEO position.  I love this quotation by Schmidt, “‘Six months later I went back and checked [on the substance of the debates the three held that day in Page and Brin’s office], and everything they said was right. That is kind of humbling–beat by two twenty-seven-year-olds” (Battelle 135).  It’s such a great metaphor for how the internet can potentially turn old-school authority on its head.

The most familiar example of the internet beating out the establishment is, of course, the decline of the news industry as news outlets struggle to adjust to the digital age.  During my last semester of college, I had the joy and curse of being the personal assistant to Christopher Lydon, once a well-known radio personality at WBUR, as he attempted to wrap his head around “New Media” and teach a seminar/make an online radio show about it.  Lydon’s thesis for the semester was, “mainstream media is dead.”  He celebrated the rise of citizen journalism and the fall of the days when Walter Cronkhite told us “And that’s the way it is”; however, in spite of all his rejoicing over the fact that ordinary people could be experts just like the, well, experts, my cursory glance at the Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon site indicates that he’s still interviewing the same kind of experts that he would have used when he got his start in journalism almost 50 years ago.  He’s kind of like the companies that reached early success by focusing on portals–by the time they recognized the importance of search, it was already too late to catch up (or change, in Lydon’s case).

Things are probably getting even worse for the news industry.  In addition to the loss of central authority over current events thanks to citizen journalism, they’ll also lose even more money now that google has launched a trial version of Fast Flip, a new content browser that lets you see news from a set of websites at once (thanks Courtney for posting about this first).  Granted, there are a few issues to work out (Rafe Needleman at cnet.com says, “it still feels forced”) but as we learned from Battelle’s books, the Google team is made up of master problem-solvers, and they will probably work it out.