Google, a company founded less than twenty years ago by two Californian university students in a garage, has become a multinational multi-media monolith. Initially an internet-based search engine funded by advertising revenue it has acquired a 65% market share, employs 55,000 workers and has assets of $70billion.
The company’s development has been exponential and its the founders now own such substantial stakes in it that they can afford to pay themselves annual salaries of $1. The company’s impact on the accessibility of knowledge and consequentially on the world economy and culture is what makes it unique and arguably rivals the combined influence of the East India Company, Lloyds of London, the Henry Ford Motor Corporation, and the legendary institutions which have shaped the modern era. Google has not only changed the way we work, behave and think, but, according to some distinguished biochemists, its impact on the education of the e-literate, digital generation, will inevitably influence the development of the human brain. If 10,000 hours of application make a professional musician, what will result from this level of interface with the virtual world? No single technological or economic phenomenon has had a comparable effect since the Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press five hundred years ago.
Dedicated to the advancement of knowledge and by implication to freedom and prosperity, and ethically committed to progress, Google’s ambitions are as infinite as its eponymous logo. Environmentally aware, user friendly, widely seen as an ideal employer and a model for commercial enterprise, with the Googleplex headquarters full of exercise machines, health food and corporate informality, the popularity of the company with its devotees and young professionals is born out by innumerable surveys. Google’s insistence on its employees devoting 20% of their time to pursue their own lines of innovation must be the most remarkable industrial adventure in the history of management.
But the company’s viral expansion into e-publishing, social networking, three-dimensional mapping, publicity, email, translation, wireless money transfer, mobile phones, blogging, citizens’ journalism, videos, news services and indeed every aspect of the digital world has not been without substantial controversy. There are doubts about data disclosure, political funding, discriminatory algorithms, monopolistic asset acquisition, antitrust violation, tax avoidance, copyright disputes, involvement in alleged international security risks. The costs are high. Google, one billion clicks per day, is our interface with reality. Is Google now too omnipotent to be left to geeks?