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Google isn't the typical tech Bond villain, says Sarah Lafferty. So why does the company provoke such ire?
Having followed Facebook’s dirty tricks PR campaign against Google I’ve been thinking more deeply lately about why the company provokes so much ire. With its geeky, experimental culture and relatively low profile executives, Google doesn’t present itself as the typical tech Bond villain.
Yet, traditionally pro-business media including the likes of Fox News, the Daily Mail and the Evening Standard have each accused it recently of misdeeds ranging from privacy invasion to tax evasion to wrecking the pop star Adele’s career. Tech industry alpha dogs like Steve Jobs and Steve Ballmer are either frothing at the mouth over the company or suing it.
So why is everyone so mad at Google?
One theory came to me while perusing a fascinating report from PwC about my latest obsession, Big Data. (Yes, the long summer nights do scream past). In case you’ve managed to dodge all the Big Data hoopla (or better yet, Hadoopla) essentially the term refers to massive sets of structured and unstructured data from sources like enterprise software systems, commercial transactions, social media and other Web sites.
Perhaps more interesting than the data structures is how they have given birth to a new way of exploring and analysing this kind of data. Gartner refers to this as ‘Data Discovery’ while others call it ‘Exploratory Analytics’.
As PwC so eloquently put it in its report, "these software technologies and their hardware cluster platform make it feasible not only to look for the needle in the haystack, but also to look for new haystacks". I reckon this ability look for new haystacks is incredibly powerful and has profound implications for businesses who want to use business intelligence to reveal new opportunities for growth, rather than what it’s traditionally been best for – measuring and improving operational efficiency.
Broad beans are a cat’s best friend
Talking about Data Discovery, the other day when I was shelling broad beans, I dropped one on the floor and within seconds my cat Nancy ambushed it, engaged it in a frenzied game of hockey, then proceeded to roll about on the floor with it in a state of demented ecstasy before gobbling it up. This made me wonder: do cats in general have a special relationship with the humble broad bean?
So I Googled "Cats and Broad Beans" and among the many relevant results, this came back "Broad Beans – A Cat’s Best Friend". Sure enough, kitties do love ‘em!
This might seem like a frivolous experiment, but an R&D team in a pet supplies company might be able to use this information to conceive a new type of cat treat. In a matter of seconds I was able to quickly and cheaply test the relationship between a random and seemingly unrelated set of data points within a very large sample. The pet supplies company could not have possibly learned this by analysing its own proprietary BI data, because there would have been no relevant historical data available in its ‘haystacks’.
So going back to my theory about Google, the company owns the world’s most valuable Big Database. We the people are its volunteer army of analysts who make the system stronger and more valuable every time we perform a search, making it possible to find common ground between (and opportunity within) things as seemingly disparate as cats and broad beans. As such, Google holds an almost unconceivable amount of information, earning potential and power.
An experimental company, Google makes a lot of mistakes, but at the same time it carries on finding new ways to use and commercialise its staggeringly big database and the simple, awesome power of search. In doing so, Google’s making companies that depend on traditional, proprietary structured systems look increasingly vulnerable while it maintains the satisfied expression of the cat who just caught the broad bean.
Sarah Lafferty is a co-founder and director at Round Earth Consulting, a communications consultancy for the enterprise software industry.