Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Google So Far

I have mixed feelings about Google.

On the one hand, they provide some amazing services - free.
On the other hand, they have so much information & so much analytical power, that if/when it gets into the wrong hands it could mean serious trouble for individuals, populations or even nations.
Imagine Hitler or Stalin with Google power…

I love their Search facility – it seems too good & too fast to be true.
We have just got used to it now & take it for granted, but if you can remember what searching was like before…
Well, it was like it still is in my Microsoft XP computer's internal searcher – you put in the search term & watch while it checks through all your quarter-million files before throwing up results in no ranked order.
Or more likely fails to find anything if you made the slightest error in input.
Before Google, we used to say "Junk in – junk out" but now you stand a good chance of finding what you want even if you can't spell it.
So I no longer use MS internal search, but prefer Google Desktop Search, which is instant & brilliant, including e-mails & web-pages as well as the boring MS stuff.
On the other hand, I don't doubt that everything on my computer could now be read & analyzed (& maybe changed or deleted) by Google if they or their successors wanted.
Back on the 'good' side – I can easily live with their unobtrusive & relevant advertising, which I even sometimes follow up, whereas twinkling banners & pop-ups on other sites invariably cause me to leave as soon as possible.

Having tried lots of free photo-handling applications, I keep coming back to (Google) Picasa as being just right for me.
Others do some things better (& I do use others for those some things) but for run-of-the-mill straightening, cropping, tuning, arranging, viewing & exporting, it meets my requirements well.
I particularly like the fact that it never modifies the original photos (unless you ask it to) but saves all the modifications in little supplementary files.
Very comforting & uses less space than competitors which, if you want to preserve an original, need to create another full-sized variant to modify.
But if you ever need help, be prepared for a long & frustrating struggle & lots of forum time.

For on-line maps, I remember starting happily with Mappy, then Mapquest, Michelin, Map24 & MultiMap, but now I nearly always find myself using Google Maps.
The others have irritating inadequacies or cover the page with adverts.

When I heard about Google's Street View project, aiming to let anyone look at any street in the world, I thought it sounded impossibly vast & rather pointless.
Now, it covers enormous & increasing areas (even our off-the-beaten-path village) and I am surprised to find I use it frequently.
For instance to get a preview of turning points when planning a route.
In urban situations, I can easily memorise the appearance of critical junctions, where trying to memorise & then read street names would never work.
I could always get a GPS navigation system, but am too mean to pay the map-updating costs.

When I started thinking about a blog, I looked into the various possibilities and (Google) Blogger came out as the obvious simplest to set up & go.
Others may offer more flexibility, but Blogger is more user-friendly for Dummies.

So, it sounds like I am a Google fan?
Well, yes; I am both a satisfied user of many of their free services, and an admirer of their imagination, determination & sheer firepower in tackling pharaonic projects like Street View & Google Books.
I think they have accelerated technological development wherever they have chosen to go.
And no; although I am naïve enough to believe that Google's current management is well-meaning, I see great potential danger when their capabilities fall into less-well-meaning hands, as seems inevitable.

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