The Mind of Google
Sunday, April 21, 2002 by Dave Winer.
I had a long telephone conversation yesterday with Microsoft's Carl Stork, who's on leave, after being the vice-president who worked with Micorosoft's hardware OEMs. Carl and I share a love for baseball, we both grew up in the NY metropolitan area, even though Carl is an American League fan, and my National League mind has never really understood the American League. But we get along really well, I always enjoy talking with Carl.
We talked about a lot of things, music on the Internet, the state of independent software developers in 2002, and swung around to the state of DaveNet. Carl observed that I wasn't writing as many pieces as I used to. I explained that's because most of the action is on my weblog these days, it's a daily story, and to get the DaveNet group in the loop is something I rarely have the time to do these days.
But the Google-Meets-SOAP story is an exception. Since I was briefed well before-hand, I had time to get both flows ready, to explain the news, what it meant, and offer some insight into where I saw it going, through both channels. And today I'm pleased to report that we found what may be a killer app for the current Google-SOAP interface. I'm going to explain it briefly here, and offer pointers where you can experience it for yourself.
First, this is very much like something I played around with in MORE in the 80s. We licensed a thesaurus. I wired it into the outliner. Type in a word. Double-click to see its synonyms. Repeat until the exploration is done. It was a great way to think up product names.
Browsing Google in an outliner is similar, but also different, because Google's database has a different kind of content.
Open an outline window and enter the URL of a website that's the seed of my exploration.
Double-click. See the sites that are related to it. Pick one of its subs. Double-click. Invariably it loops back to the place I came from, but gives me nine other related sites.
It's a very simple way to crawl what I've come to think of as The Mind of Google. It's remarkably insightful for a piece of software. For example, I crawled my way to Dennis Ritchie's home page at Bell Labs. Ritchie is one of the inventors of the C programming language. Google relates his site to the sites of Bjarne Stroustrup, Don Knuth, Richard Stallman, Linus Torvalds, Andrew S. Tanenbaum, Steve Wozniak, Brian Kernighan and Ken Thompson. I'm not sure exactly what the common thread is, but they're all heroic developers who made significant contributions over many years to the technology and culture of computer programming.
I spent a couple of hours digging around. So many things to think about. So many puzzles. I came across the word telegraphy in dictionary.com as I was Google Outline Browsing, and found that many of the related pages were mine! Somehow it seems to have figured something out about me, or how I am perceived. It was at this point that I started to feel like I was interacting with something with a mind. Of course Google doesn't have one, but it does a fantastic job of tapping into our collective minds. In a sense Google is a global intellect, and I'm happy to report that the world has a good mind. Very interesting stuff.
Where the HTML interface for Google is a quick in-and-out, this is the contemplative side of Google, previously invisible, there was no user interface for it.
I announced this new way of browsing Google on Scripting News, and within a day, three other developers had similar browsers in HTML, and of course others are welcome to do it in an outliner, which is where the interface works best, imho.