Sunday, September 27, 2015

Google's 17, but what would life be like without it?

Today is Google's Birthday [Telegraph]. The tech giant has now been with us for 17 years and brought innovation and tools that many of us take for granted.

But what would life be like without Google?

For some the question "What would life be without Google?" is a no brainer. Life would be more awkward, more expensive and frustrating.

Of course there are the protagonists who claim Google has become too big and that its monopoly pushes out competition. Others claim the search giant has become Big Brother and is actively aiding the NSA.

Google has certainly become big, and indeed it does monopolise many people's lives. However its place in the online world has only been achieved due to the quality of products it supplies.

So can one really live without Google and is the competition really up to the job.


Let's start with search.

Once upon a time there was no such thing as Google. Even Bing had not even been conceived. People instead had to rely on the likes of the now defunct AltaVista. All too often good results were not returned and there were even old fashioned books sold and given away with useful Internet links published.

One such example is The Internet The Rough Guide. Published in 2000 it is a nearly 500 page book containing advice about the Internet, explaining the likes of email, Voip and web browsers.

This was at a time when Google had only been in existence for about 2 years. But it was beginning to become noticed. In the Rough Guide's section on search engines it refers to AltaVista, Northern Light, HotBot, Excite, GoTo, InfoSeek, Lycos, Snap and Webcrawler and notes that "not all search engines are equal".

AltaVista launched in 1995 but use waned as Google gained dominance. Yahoo bought up the company in 2003 but the search engine was eventually shut down. On June 28, 2013, Yahoo announced that AltaVista would be closed on July 8, 2013. Since that day, visits to AltaVista's home page have been redirected to Yahoo's main page. There is an irony that Yahoo was initially offered Google but the company turned down the offer [CNET].

GoTo has also faded from view having become incorporated into Yahoo's portfolio

Northern Light no longer offers NLSearch as a public news search engine and the company has moved to providing more specific needs to business users [Northern Light Group]. 

HotBot still exists however. But there will be few that head to this Lycos owned search engine.

Webcrawler is still active, though it, like many others, has changed hands and Webcrawler is now owned by Excite.

But while some of the search engines remain, albeit returning combined results from the main three - Google, Bing and Yahoo - others have fallen by the wayside altogether. Infoseek for example no longer exists in its original form since it was gobbled up by Disney. Snap has also disappeared into the ether.

'A future champ'

Google arrived at a time when the gaggle of other search engines provided varied and often useless results. Even as early as 2000 it was creating a stir and was drawing significant attention.

"Google is a promising newcomer," the 2000 Rough Guide said, referring to its "large database, an intelligent system of ranking hits by relevancy, and local cache access to pages that have disappeared."

"Check it out," the guide advised, "it looks set to become a future champ." Prophetic indeed. Nowadays people don't say "do an Internet search" they merely say "Google it".

Of course, Bing, Microsoft's answer to the search engine, and Yahoo do offer some competition, but Google remains the top search engine of choice. In certain countries Google has made less inroads, but this is often more to do with local politics. For example censorship and Internet blocks have all but pushed Google to the sidelines in China as most people are forced to use the home grown Baidu.

Google Maps

Google has moved on a long way since just offering search. Indeed search itself has been split into several categories.

Once search was just words. Now it is images, videos, news, shopping, books, flights and maps.

To take the last of these first, Google Maps is almost taken for granted now. But it was not so long ago that people relied on books. Computers changed that with things like Microsoft's Autoroute which was a stand alone mapping program covering parts of Europe. However is was finally discontinued in December 2014

While useful, Autoroute had disadvantages in that one would need to update software regularly given the building of new roads. Thus began various attempts to create online versions. Some may remember Mapquest or Multimap. Multimap was eventually bought up by Microsoft and became Bing Maps while Mapquest still exists. However Google's mapping solution has surpassed the competition despite being a relative latecomer to the party.

Indeed Google Maps is almost ubiquitous when it comes to finding one's way around the globe, even incorporating bus, train and tram timetables.

GMail & Docs

The list of products has grown exponentially. Word, a product costing in excess of $100, has been made almost redundant with Google Docs which has also incorporated spreadsheets, powerpoint presentations and other functions which were previously only available through stand alone programs.

GMail forced the competition, Yahoo and Hotmail, to change its ways both through functionality and size limits. Yahoo and Hotmail also lost their hold on the webmail market.

Of course there's no such thing as a free lunch, and Google funds its free services through analysing user data in order to target advertising, the core of its business model.

And in recent years Google has begun to make more money through the selling of Music, eBooks, Movies and Apps through platforms built into Android and its web infrastructure.

A life without Google

So where would we be if Google suddenly disappeared.

First you can say goodbye to your Android phone, at least in its current state. Android might continue, but there would be no Google sign-in and one would have to look towards new providers for app content. Gone too would be all your contacts, currently synced across all devices in one Google account.

Back to the good old days when one had to reprogramme a new phone with all those numbers once again!

The same would apply to all the other synced information stored in Google servers.

Chrome bookmarks, web history, years of Gmail messages, docs, picture back-ups, videos, purchased and saved books and music etc. They'd all be gone.

And of course there'd be no more YouTube. So no more watching endless videos of cats!

Rebuilding from scratch

After the initial shock one would have to pick oneself up and try to rebuild one's online life from scratch and find new online tools.

First off you'd need a new email account. The obvious choices would of course be Yahoo and Microsoft's Outlook - formerly Hotmail.

So far so good, though of course you'd have to rebuild your contacts list once again and install the App on your mobile device.

Loss of media

With the loss of Google many users would be without their large collection of books, music, films and TV programmes. Aside the inconvenience and financial loss, there are alternatives, though not necessarily under the same umbrella.

Apple offers a large collection of music to purchase and users may even store their own music in the cloud. However Apple charge $25 per year for 25,000 user-uploaded songs in iCloud while Google's current offering is 50,000 songs for free.

As regards books only Amazon is a serious competitor to Google Books and does have a few of the facilities such as uploading facilities, though not epubs.

When it comes to online video content there lots of providers but not all offer the ability to buy. There is Flixster which facilitates keeping a copy of a bought DVD in its online storage locker by way of tie-up with UltraViolet, and there is Amazon which offers purchase options. Sky TV also offers a DVD and cloud locker option.

However Google's offering is neater in that everything is under one roof. Furthermore the company regularly throws out a few freebies to its consumers.

Data and storage

One thing most people would miss aside of search and GMail would by Google Docs and Drive.

Microsoft of course offer some online alternatives, but Google Docs and Drive are far more intuitive. And of course there's the price one pays for all of these online services.

With 15 Gb free and 1 terabyte for a little over $100 per year Google offers the best value for online storage. What's more Google Drive works in a tree like structure so that one can simply upload folders within folders within folders. Microsoft's SkyDrive only allows files to be uploaded so folders have to be created first within the cloud.

There are certainly alternatives to most of what Google has to offer. And mankind would certainly adapt and move on without the Chocolate Factory, as it has been dubbed by some tech news outlets. But would using the Internet be as sweet. Probably not. Some have tried to live their life without it [BBC / / How I divorced Google], but the reach of Google is far reaching and almost impossible to avoid. 

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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