Action Hots Up In The Search Space

Updated: Jun 11 2004, 05:30am hrs
With its announcement of an IPO, suddenly there is so much interest in Google. People talk of billions of dollars worth of opportunity. Interestingly, Google by itself is a secondary industry; it does not manufacture hardware (a PC, PDA, DVD or camera) or software (Windows operating system, Oracle DBMS, OpenView network management or Office application). It does not even produce primary information like news, stock price information or weather reports. All Google does is to create information about information that has already been generated by millions of web pages created by others individuals (like you and me), groups (users and societies) and organisations (corporations and universities). Most of us routinely go to the Google site and 90 per cent of the time we return back as happy customers though we do not pay a penny.

What is amazing about Google is that in America they say Google is God! For various reasons. First, on account of its speed since you get results instantly; second, its spread as Google analyses web pages on computers across the globe; third, it is an intuitive interface because you just type in what you want and, finally, it is free.

Google has perfected the job of providing you a list of the most relevant information using its proprietary page ranking algorithm. The search engine continuously looks for new and changed information spread across millions of computers using the technology of information robots. Google has also perfected the job of using thousands of low cost hardware (built out of commodity microprocessors) that give supercomputer performance at rock bottom prices.

Google Labs is constantly perfecting the job of enhancing its scope to other information services such as smart buying and information products such as network news. Last, but not the least, Google has also perfected a business model whereby they do not charge those who search directly. They recover their costs through a simple advertisement model that the media industry has perfected over the decades.

Now there is much research happening in the search space. Following the success of Google others, including Microsoft and IBM, are entering the search space. Amazon has recently launched its A9 search engine that has some cool features about site statistics. Inundated with hundreds of e-mails and low cost disk capacity, we all store enormous amount of past mails that would need a niche search engine. Through GMail (a beta product as of today), Google is planning to offer a mail store service where every user can dump up to a gigabyte of mail archives and instantly search every mail.

The magic of Google and many other search engines such as Yahoo and Alta Vista is their ability to scan, analyse and organise information. Interestingly, Library and Information Systems professionals have been doing precisely these tasks even before the arrival of computers in our midst. Google-like search engines have automated this process leading to significant efficiency but much of the research into this search started much earlier. An example that comes to mind is Concordance (an alphabetical list of principal words in a book). For centuries, we had anukramanika, a concordance for a large text like the Mahabharata. Another recent idea is Citation, which ranks a paper based on the number of times it has been cited (referenced) by other authors across scholarly journals.

I see a deeper trend in this development a trend where the focus in information technology shifts from technology to information. Like every other industry, the IT industry too is maturing after nearly five decades of heightened activity. As the industry matures, the emphasis shifts. For example, in the early days of road transportation, the people who made money were those who made road rollers or built the highways. Over the years, one takes a highway system for granted and the power shifts to those that utilise the infrastructure, say, the retail giant Wal-Mart which uses the highway to deliver superior logistics solutions.

In the past five decades, the IT industry was technology dominated. Hardware manufacturers such as IBM dominated the scene till the 70s and minicomputer vendors such as Digital Equipment in the 80s. Microprocessor vendor Intel, network gear supplier Cisco and PC software vendor Microsoft dominated the scene in the 90s. Already the dominance is shifting to information managers Yahoo and Google.

Naturally, the next phase of IT will see less emphasis on technology processors (32 bit/64 bit), architecture (CISC/RISC), processing (silicon/optical), encoding (ASCII/Unicode), operating systems (Windows/Linux), database management systems (Oracle/SQL Server), programming language (c#/Java), networking (Ethernet/ATM), tools (Visual Studio/Delphi), middleware (Web Logic/Web Sphere), application software (SAP/PeopleSoft) or web browsers (Internet Explorer/Mozilla). There will be more emphasis on information management and on Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. It will be a paradigm shift.

The author is director of Indian Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore. These are his personal views. He can be reached at Sadagopan@sadagopan.com