Let's try a little experiment. Take the title of this blog, and Google it. You will find many, many articles and blog posts with this exact title. Without delving too far back on Google pages, I found a posting dated February 21, 2003 with the same title. This was less than five years after Google was founded. If a question persists, doesn't it mean that there is room for concern?
Devoting space to Google's immense reach and influence can't begin to get of the root of the subject. When a company's name is also a common verb, it goes without saying that they are a powerful influence on daily life for billions. For the record, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. As a writer, I am grateful for the ability to have rapid access to research material at the click of a mouse. The gifted and prolific author, Harlan Ellison, used to arrange to write in the front windows of bookstores; in part for publicity purposes, but also to have access to their volumes of reference materials. Search engines are much more convenient.
However, now that Google has changed the algorithm which controls searches and search results, the search engine giant has essentially admitted that they have enough information about us to be able to accurately know what we're thinking. Google is now less concerned with the keywords in your search than with the inferred essence of that search. Google can figure out what you're looking for because they have our search history, our social media profiles, our buying habits, our locations, and pretty much anything else they need in order to direct us to the right source for an answer to any question that we pose.
More significantly, they are focusing their attention on our mobile usage. This reinvention of their search engine algorithm is called Hummingbird. It's a clever moniker, because the hummingbird flits rapidly from place to place, getting what it needs, always on the go, and always needing more. Voice recognition is also an integral part of this. Whip out your phone, ask Google a question, and get your answer in a flash. Mobile users expect quick results, uncluttered by spam and ads.
Still, what's really going on here? By asking your device a question (and it doesn't have to be on a mobile device, but it often is), you are conversing with your search engine. The more you use voice recognition, the more the search engine becomes accustomed to your voice, and provides better, quicker service. It understands you. It also knows where you are, because your device has a GPS. This provides Google with better, more detailed information on which ads would be best targeted specifically to you. Looking for a Thai restaurant? Google will find one within a few blocks of where you are standing.
As a provider of content, I know that if I write useful, informative material, and do it often, then that content will find its audience. To its credit, Google continues to employ new methods which make that easier than ever, and they should be commended for it. Still, at what point do those methods take us to the brink of intrusion '- or worse? What's more, how much longer will these questions be asked before there is a noticible backlash? Is Google too big to care?
Is it even fair to ask these questions? What's your opinion? We'd love to hear your thoughts.
Gary Locke is a semi-professional hyphenate and the Content Editor for CommonPlaces. He has enjoyed a long career in theater and multimedia, and still hopes to one day drive the Batmobile.