A version of this post first appeared in the Daily Record’s Edinburgh Now supplement.
Fifteen is a tricky and awkward age, whatever way you look at it.
So, imagine being a precocious teenager working on very clever science project while also volunteering for a local charity and operating a profitable sideline in helping other kids with their homework.
Then imagine being hauled away from those fun, worthy and moneymaking activities to be given a skelping by a group of tetchy adults, all because a bunch of other kids at the school have been trading bootleg music and pirated DVDs.
Oooh, the injustice.The pure woe-is-me, why-does-nobody-understand-me, life-is-so-unfair bummer of it all.
Still, in this case there’s no such wailing and gnashing of teeth, because the teenager in question is no ordinary, plooky and hormonal high school kid.
Search giant Google has just celebrated its 15th birthday weeks after announcing it earned revenues of $14bn in the second quarter of 2013 (yes, in just three months).
With that kind of wedge Google can shrug off the odd injustice like the one played out last week, when it was given a shoeing by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee at the House of Commons.
The cross-party committee said Google had offered only “flimsy” excuses for failing to deal with illegal downloads, warning that online piracy threatens the UK’s multi-million-pound creative industries.
Chairman, John Whittingdale MP, huffed: “We are unimpressed by Google’s continued failure to stop directing consumers to illegal, copyright infringing material on the flimsy excuse that some of the sites may also host some legal content.
I’m not sure that it’s Google’s job to untangle the horrible patchwork that makes up global copyright and intellectual property legislation to decide who is legitimate and who is not.
Google’s real job is to keep indexing billions of web pages so that any time you search for something you get the most relevant, useful and timely information you’re looking for – half a second after you finish typing.
They do that job astonishingly well and let’s not forget this incredible, modern day miracle of a service is totally and utterly free. As is the wonderful Google Maps, the spam-free Gmail, the super fast and efficient Chrome web browser and the depthless entertainment channel that is YouTube (yep, Google owns that too).
The Android operating system on 70% of smartphones is Google’s free gift to the phone makers, while the steadily growing Google Plus is an elegant, alternative social media platform, where you can save and share photos and make video calls to friends and contacts (again, for free).
Privacy campaigners are suspicious of the search giant and the bigger it gets, the harder it is for company to maintain its informal motto, don’t be evil. But Google and its founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin continue to back many good causes.
Meanwhile it is also committed to ‘moonshot’ projects like developing self-driving cars and floating hundreds of giant balloons in the upper atmosphere to give internet connectivity to remote and Third World areas.
Simple, direct, effective
The Google brand has certainly grown far beyond search, yet that deceptively simple white search box is the place were virtually every web visit starts – more than three billion inquiries every day.
Not only is the sum of human knowledge instantly accessible, but the wheels of business and commerce have been spectacularly oiled. When research giants McKinsey tried to calculate the value of search to global economy they put the figure at $780 billion. That was in 2009 (when Google was still in Primary school).
Perhaps the biggest injustice of last week’s House of Commons pantomime was the fact that it overshadowed another wee story about Google.
Without much fanfare the California based company announced it had replaced its entire algorithm a month earlier. That algorithm is the complex recipe when makes the whole search thing work.
It is Google’s secret sauce. Imagine either Coke or Irn Bru completely replacing their formula without raising a peep from punters – and without a single hiccup in service.
The new version, known as Hummingbird, is likely to be another amazing step forward, ushering in the era of ‘conversational’ search. where queries are spoken into PCs phones and tablets.
All in all it’s not a bad list of achievements for such a young shaver – and leaves me wondering, what might Google achieve by 30?