Google is the Internet
Imagining the Google future, here's scenario 2 (circa 2015): Free Wi-Fi, a faster version of the Web, the Gbrowser, and the Cube transform the technology landscape and our language.
It's been a long time since "Google" referred solely to a company in Silicon Valley. Its lawyers were battling use of the verb "to google" as early as 2003.1 But during the past decade, especially among the generation born after the millennium, the word has become interchangeable with "Internet," "computer," and "phone call." As in "Did you see that movie on google?," "Mind if I borrow your google?," and "Give me a google later in the week." This is no mere linguistic sloth. For most daily purposes, Google has become the technology platform, the communications network, and the Internet itself.
The ubiquitous GoogleNet,2 which blankets every major urban center in the world with free wireless access, cell-phone service, and targeted local advertising (starting with the successful San Francisco experiment of 2007), is only the most visible tip of the iceberg. Since the early 2000s, Google was buying up thousands of miles of previously unused fiber-optic cables -- so-called dark fiber. Then it began building myriad server farms, sending out billions of crawlers (automated programs that constantly browse the Web), and storing a fresh cache of all searchable information on the Web regularly -- first every week, then every day, now every minute.
The upshot was that it became far faster and easier to use Google's copy of the Web than the slowpoke Web itself. That's why Gbrowser, launched in 2008 (though the domain name was registered in 2004), took off: It had priority access to Google's version of the Web, unlike Microsoft's long-defunct Internet Explorer. Gbrowser also had scads of useful new features, like a commission-free micropayment system that superseded PayPal and (in conjunction with the virtual stores on Google Base) eventually drove once-powerful auction site eBay to the edge of bankruptcy.
But the real genius of Gbrowser was to make the operating system irrelevant.3 Few people know or care today whether their computers run on Windows, Linux, or the Mac OS. It's simply part of the plumbing. Gbrowser handles just about everything you use a computer for, especially since Google adopted the Linux-based OpenOffice software and bundled it. The Justice Department's investigation into whether this made Google an illegal monopoly closed five years ago; it might have made more headway had the charges not been brought by Microsoft.
Besides, few consumers are complaining. Nobody who remembers the horrific customer service and roaming charges of the old telecoms wants to give up their Google phone. And 2010's Google Cube4 -- a tiny server that was distributed as freely and as widely as those CDs that AOL used to give away -- became the one indispensable item in every home, running the TV, stereo, thermostat, and, for less adventurous cooks, even the oven. Among the younger generation, that has given rise to yet another new phrase: Did you google dinner yet?
Footnotes: 1) "To Google or Not to Google?," by Jason Kottke, kottke.org, Feb 26, 2003. 2) "Free Wi-Fi? Get Ready for GoogleNet," by Om Malik, Business 2.0, September 2005. 3) "The Google Browser," kottke.org, Aug. 24, 2004. 4) "The Google Box: Taking Over the World Four Ounces at a Time," by Robert X. Cringely, pbs.org/cringely/archive, Nov. 24, 2005.
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