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Google and the Human (/Social/Cultural)

John Naughton's just posted on something I've been turning over in my mind, too — Google growing up?:

Robert Scoble has paid another visit to the Google campus. And he was impressed …  For example,

… every interaction I had with Googlers this time was different than the last time I was on campus. They seemed more humble. More comfortable. More inquisitive. … This is a different Google than I was used to. And it’s the small things that I noticed.

One other small thing I noticed? A lot more blog listening behavior. Carl Sjogreen, who runs the Google Calendar team, told me that the first thing he does every morning is do this search on Google’s Blogsearch service: “Google Calendar.” He says he answers everyone’s questions, even if you’re a kid in another country with only four readers.

If asked to identify quickly the Google/Yahoo! differences, one thing many of us would include would be the technology/human focus. danah (October, 2005): 

… today, Sergey Brin of Google appeared in my Search class as a surprise guest … He really rattled some feathers … with his response to the semantic web, tagging and librarianship. He took the techno-centric point of view that is so Google. Tagging inverts the relationship between man and machine. Tagging is only of interest and valuable if machines do it. … Will Google ever understand that culture has value?

Then this, from Tim O'Reilly, yesterday:

The launch of Google Image Labeler, a "game" that asks people to label images, and figures that images given the same label by multiple people are likely to be correct, continues the Web 2.0 trend towards bionic software, that is, software that combines machine and human intelligence. This is really just another version of the web 2.0 principle, harnessing collective intelligence, but with an emphasis on "harnessing" rather than on "collective." Like Distributed Proofreaders (the granddaddy in the space), Amazon's Mechanical Turk, and mycroft, but unlike, say, a Flickr tag cloud as a reflection of collective labeling of images, Google Image Labeler puts people explicitly to work.

And last month, there was Google Video apparently shifting in a more … human direction; towards the end of this post, I noted this.

Thomas wrote (back in May):

I really do not see the battle as being between Google and the others. The real battle is between Yahoo and Microsoft. Why? Both focus on the person and that person's use and need for information in their life and with their context. Information needs to be aggregated (My Yahoo is a great start, but it goes deeper and broader) and filtered based on interest and need. We are living in a flood of information that has crossed into information pollution territory. We need to remove the wretched stench of information to get back the sweet smell of information. We need to pull together our own creations across all of the places we create content. We need to attract information from others whom have similar interests, frameworks, and values (intellectual, social, political, technological, etc.). The only foundation piece Yahoo is missing is deep storage for each person's own information, files, and media.

In Thomas' words, there needs to be 'a proper focus on what those of us who look at regular people and their needs from information and media in their lives have been seeing. Yahoo gets it and is sitting on a gold mine'. … Whereas Google 'need a person-centered approach to their products. … Google has some excellent designers who are focussed on usable design for the people, but it seems that the technology is still king. That needs to change for Google to stay in the game.'

Hmm … 'puts people explicitly to work' (Tim O'Reilly) is interesting. It should surely be happening in a more "natural" way than that (ie, by careful design, informed by a thoroughly inward understanding of what makes our social species tick).

I remain to be convinced that Google has got it, but I'm getting to the point where I might be less surprised when they do.

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