to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful," is— you'll have to admit— kind of sexy (okay, perhaps only librarians would consider that sexy, but still).
As you may or may not have picked up, depending on how well you've paid attention to my blog over the years, I'm not exactly the world's best capitalist. I've had a bit of a hate on for huge corporations. So, as I wasn't exactly comfortable praying at the altar of Google, I was hoping for Vaidhyanathan to provide some balance.
And in that regard, I'd say the book was exactly what I came for. To be sure, this book and Vaidhyanathan has its share of critics. However, the negative reviews that I've read have accused him of fear-mongering, which simply isn't true. There's a huge difference, between "Why we should worry" (the subtitle) and "Run for the hills!" or "Quit Google now!" For the most part, he simply emphasizes caution. While I don't feel he was necessarily successful at showing any major faults in the way Google currently operates (though we can all admit they've made mistakes), it was a bit worrisome how many people, organizations, and governments have adopted Google services and policies without much thought about future consequences or else over-thinking the future perils of not jumping on board right now! (I'm as guilty as anyone else.) Whether Google has or has not abused their power already is a matter of debate, but they have certainly found (put?) themselves in a position that they can abuse it, to disastrous effect, should they be so inclined. (This of course, can probably be argued about many billion dollar industries.)
At times however, I felt that Google was damned if it did, damned if it didn't. I was prepared to read about how Google's globalized community is eradicating cultural minorities. However, showing that Google's results are largely localized (he shows a great example of how Googling "God" is different parts of the world will have different front page results), Vaidhyanathan instead seems to take issue with this approach, implying that they are making small communities of people with similar beliefs even more insular. Again, however, this is a way of saying that when you're dealing with the global information and the vast about of information Google has at its disposal, there are no easy answers (nor perhaps, simple missions).
Regardless of how one feels about Google or Vaidhyanathan's stance, the book is definitely a think-piece worthy of a read. I found myself riffing on a number of loosely-related ideas* while working through it, and I haven't done that as much since Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.
For what's it's worth, I'd still work for Google if I had the opportunity.
(*One such idea: if you want a sure way to get hundreds of comments on a CBC news story, write about a MacDonald's menu item or Tim Horton's coffee. So many people find it impossible not to respond with some sort of speech about how horribly unhealthy MacDonald's food is or how vile tasting Tim Horton's coffee is. One could read these 1000s of comments —easily the majority— and assume that the two businesses are doomed. A few months left, tops. And yet, the millions of people that go to these franchises everyday seem either not to read CBC news sites or care enough even to respond. We're not talking about small indie blog, it's the CBC. There's clearly still a real discrepancy between online culture and real world culture in Canada. MacDonald's has been offering things such as apples and yogurt in their Happy Meals and are supposedly trying to be more transparent online, so perhaps the anti crowd is having an effect and will become the dominant or possibly even the sole opinion one day. Who knows. This is getting even further away from Vaidhyanathan's book. I simply wanted to illustrate how the book was a fantastic springboard into thinking about the effects of online on our offline, offline on our online.)