For most people, Google is the only thing that makes sense of the chaotic mishmash of information that the internet is. Innovations like the page rank system, a simple and minimalistic search interface, and a high speed of search returns ensured that people kept coming back. The search engine receives the most number of hits per day for any website in the world, and "google" is a dictionary recognized verb. Despite serious privacy concerns and various allegations of improper trade practices, Google has consistently been the market leader in the segment. However, this was not always the case. There was a time when chatting activity on MSN networks had reached such heights that Parent Teacher Associations across America and Europe had called for various bans and restrictions. MSN was the harbinger of the social networking era, with extensive participation across its forums. The biggest drawback with hotmail was how stingy they were with the amount of space they gave out in the inbox. For this reason, Yahoo! was the preferred e-mail service provider of choice for many, and the avatars had their fifteen minutes of fame. This was, however, before gmail came along.
One GB of space, that was four times more than what anyone else was offering around that time. You had to get an invite, which were so precious that people were offering money, limbs and souls on e-bay to get one. Everyone who had access to the internet wanted one, and eventually, everyone had a gmail id. What was really surprising was the ease at which gmail developers introduced innovations that caught on. Using labels instead of folders, a chat interface over the e-mail interface, and the grouping together of sent and replied e-mails were all simple but effective ideas. In a span of a couple of years, it became easy to guess anyone's e-mail id, because most started following the firstname.lastname@gmail format which spread like wildfire.
In the year 2002, Google spotted great potential in blogger and bought them out. Blogging created a whole knew platform for expression. Blogging introduced a new model for keeping a website continuously updated. Its influence on popular culture cannot be discounted, the band All American Rejects made a music video out of blog entries on postsecret.com, the scandalous love lives of America’s Capital city were catalogued in washingtonienne, and in India Gaurav Sabhnis had to resign from IBM after IIPM threatened to burn IBM laptops over Sabhnis’ posts on false claims by IIPM. In authoritarian countries like China and Singapore, blogs were – and still are the only medium for expression of discontent by the general public. To tell the truth, the amount of bloggers out there has actually reduced, and there are a lot of abandoned blogs, but blogger was responsible for the onset of photoblogging, podcasting, and vlogging, which were the early precursors of something that would change the landscape of the audiovisual media.
Every minute, ten hours of video are uploaded on YouTube. Everyone from Street Musicians to amateur short film makers get a worldwide audience. Uploading videos and streaming the content onto the computers of visitors was a complicated process before YouTube came along, and now anyone can do it. Additionally, pasting simple blocks of HTML coding allows the videos to be shared on blogs, social networking sites and almost any website.
"Google dictates almost everything I do online” said a friend of mine “As soon as I log on, I check orkut and gmail, then head over to youtube and spend some time there. If I want to surf, google is my starting point.” This increasing dependence on the search engine, and their apparent monopoly in the market has led to a lot of concerns. “If google takes over the world,” said the same friend “it would be pretty convenient actually.” While internet users in India may seem dependant on the search engine, there is still plenty of scope for getting more involved. For one, the number of search results for products and services in the local area are not nearly as prolific as they are in the Americas or Europe. Google is only a search engine, and there is only so much it can do with a very limited number of business houses and corporations having an online presence. The Yellow Pages is still the best place to go to if you want to buy something like say – spray paint. Another aspect is that newspapers and television are still the primary sources of news and entertainment. While many publishing houses do put their reports online, there are no independent news agencies working on specific beats or watching particular areas of interest as yet. Additionally, the bandwidth constraints of most Indian connections make it a tedious process to load videos and only the best of the best, handpicked by the grapevine get watched.
There is a flipside as well, with a lot of parents being uncomfortable about the boisterous nightlife that underage teenagers on orkut enjoy, cookies that never expire, tracking search behavior across many sessions, and privacy concerns about google’s revenue generating baby, ad-sense. Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin has a simple answer, “Some say Google is God. Others say Google is Satan. But if they think Google is too powerful, remember that with search engines unlike other companies, all it takes is a single click to go to another search engine.”
What to look forward to?
* A desktop widget that lets you know if your local vendor just got a fresh stock of apus
* Sangli farmers selling secondhand tractors on e-bay
* Independent opinions on things like the n-deal or the stock markets on online news channels that have no affiliations with publishing houses or their advertisers
* More active online forums and discussion groups with a lot more offliners