You have arrived at the web home of Noah Brier. This is mostly an archive of over a decade of blogging and other writing. You can read more about me or get in touch. If you want more recent writing of mine, most of that is at my BrXnd marketing x AI newsletter and Why Is This Interesting?, a daily email for the intellectually omnivorous.

August, 2004

Google's Playboy Interview

The SEC was more than a little upset with Google for their interview with Playboy Magazine which will be appearing in the September issue. As a punishment for violating their quiet period, the SEC has forced Google to include the full text of the interview they did with Playboy in their prospectus. (Warning: this takes a very long time to load, Kottke.org has posted the full text of the interview without the rest of the prospectus.) The interview provided some interesting insights into Google's corporate ideologies and was a fun read (as most Playboy interviews are). Brin and Page discuss everything from GMail's privacy concerns to the Chinese government, although I found this exchange the most interesting:
PLAYBOY: How has Google saved lives?  

BRIN: When people look up information in a life-threatening situation. Someone wrote that he was having chest pains and wasn’t sure of the cause. He did a Google search, decided he was having a heart attack and called the hospital. He survived and wrote to us. To help in situations like that, Google has to be quick and correct. Other people have written us with similar stories. We get postcards and pictures of them with their family. Those are extremes, but there are countless other examples. People are helped with their careers. Students are helped when they study. It’s a powerful tool.

PLAYBOY: When someone is having chest pains and searches the web for information about them, for example, it’s essential that the information be correct. How does Google know about the veracity of a website’s information?

BRIN: Similar to other media—books, magazines, whatever—you have to use judgment.

PLAYBOY: But isn’t the Net, where anyone can put up a web page, more likely to have erroneous information?

BRIN: Yes. Joe Blow can write something in a few hours, post it and it’s on the Net. It could be about neuroscience, and he may know nothing about neuroscience. More typical inaccuracies in other media are from out-of-date material. In both cases, you have to apply judgment. The Internet helps because you can quickly check a number of different sources. If I were seriously interested in something important to me, I wouldn’t just click on the first search result, read it and take it as God’s word.

PAGE: Which is a great thing about the Internet, because you can read information from many sources and decide. Libraries might have some of the information but probably not all—and not necessarily the most up-to-date.

This relates directly to what I discussed in my Idiocentricity and the Internet post. Brin and Page realize the power of the tool they have created. It has the potential to make people rethink the way they traditionally accessed information. In a pre-internet world, one source was often enough to form an opinion off. In today's digital world, however, that is not the case. The internet teaches us that we should not trust single sources, we should search around and develop our own answers. What's so amazing about Google is that about 90% of the time the most relevant page for your source comes first. This is because Google is using collective intelligence to figure out where pages should appear in searches. Since the system is based on how many incoming links a page receives we are seeing information at the top that other people have read and appreciated enough to link to. This, however, is only the first step and we must not forget that even with the collective intelligence of the internet world at work, we still need to question all the results we receive and find our own answers. If we begin to rely on Google as we do the library, simply believing that if we find the information in a book there it must be true, then we run the risk of losing the real value of the internet. That value is deeply rooted in the connections, not necessarily just the information.
August 16, 2004
Noah Brier | Thanks for reading. | Don't fake the funk on a nasty dunk.