Friday, September 30, 2005

This is where productivity comes from.

I saw this link on Nev's Blog today. It cracked me up. It's true though. People who can use google effectively have a huge competitive advantage over those who don't. If you are internet literate, it may be hard to appreciate just how amazing Google is. You probably take it for granted. A while back I was helping my Father set up his blog. He has been programming computers since the punch-card days. Unfortunately, they didn't have Google back in the punch-card days. As I was helping him with his blog I was shocked by how limited his googling skills were. He'd ask a questions and I'd say "I don't know...look it up on google.". He would look it up and not find relevant results. I'd say "No search using this keywoard, or put that in quotes", and then he would get results that he needed.

Here is one example in particular. My Dad took Latin in college, and knows it well enough to read whole books written in their original latin, although he cannot actually speak it. My Dad wanted to use a particular Latin quote in his blog. He couldn't remember the exact wording of the quote. He also wanted to confirm that the quote was from Cisero. He had googled it, and Google had returned lots of sites about Latin, including several full of famous old latin quotes from famous ancient Romans. He had spent some time searching through these sites but had not found his particular information that he needed. I said "hey let me try". I typed something into Google, and within 15 seconds, I had his quote up there, with its translation and source, right there highlighted on the screen. (I don't remember exactly what I was doing differently than him.) Despite the fact that he knows more about Latin than me, in that particular instant in time for that particular Latin problem, I knew more about Latin than he did, because I knew more about how to use Google than he did.

Using Google to find information is an art. It isn't simply typing a keyword in. Often effectively using Google is about figuring out what keyword will ONLY bring up the subject matter your interested in. It can be like a puzzle. With practice some people learn to solve the puzzle better than others. Google came out when I was in college or shortly after, I don't remember. Before Google I used Yahoo or Alta-Vista, mainly Alta-Vista. The problem was that as hard as it is sometimes with Google now-a-days to find relevant results, it was often impossible with Alta-Vista. I remember there was a period of time when no matter what you searched for in Alta-Vista, half the results would be porno sites and credit card scam sites. Search engines back then were not very good at determining relevance. Even worse, they were also easily gameable by the spam-site opporators, and so at times, they returned mostly spam. They just weren't very useful for finding information that wasn't fairly direct and trivial. As a result I didn't start honing my "googling" skills until sometime after college.

Now remember the scenario with my Dad and me? I am often a participant in the same scenario but with the roles reversed. Anytime I am using a computer with anyone younger than me, they always seem to be better at using google than me. An example is my girlfriend. Sometimes I have trouble finding stuff on Google. I ask her to help and she finds what I need almost immediately. The difference is that Google was out almost the entire time she was in college. When I was in college one still mostly did research in the library. My College Writing class actually addressed how to add a paranthetical reference to a website, but I'm pretty sure I was the only person in my class who used any internet research for our final research paper assignment. Not my girlfriend though. When she was in college, kids basically only used Google for doing research, apparently. She has a lot more experience using google than me. Despite the fact that I use google every day, several times a day to do my work, I still don't seem to be catching up.

I have several programmers who work for me. Google came out while they were still in highschool, so they have been using it since their teens. I am often amazed by the types of problems they are able to solve. Sometimes they have projects that I think they probably won't really be able to do because they don't know as much about Math as me, or because they haven't been programming as long as me, and they'll probably ask for my help later. The thing is they often don't need my help on this stuff that I think they will need me for. It doesn't matter that they don't know as much math as me, or haven't been programming as long. What matters is that they know how to use google, and this puts the expertise of the entire world at their fingertips. Someone, somewhere on the web who knows a lot more about Math than me has probably come up with the formula they need for whatever problem they are working on and posted it somewhere, and these kids know how to find it using google, so they don't need to know as much about Math or whatever.

American workers are the most productive in the world, and productivity has been increasing at a high rate since the 90's. I think Google is a big part of why this is. It will only accelerate as the young kids who are expert googlers reach their prime working years and begin to obtain positions of power in politics and industry.


At 3:47 PM, Blogger Alien Shaman said...

Good post, and very relevant. Just today I wanted to look up "running a restaurant lessons learned" on Google. I like crunching numbers, so I spent the past couple evenings massaging excel to see how viable a restaurant would be at a given location, and most importantly what the risk vs reward for that location would be.

The first site to come up was not all that useful, but the google ads on the side were exactly what I was looking for. I actually found a $200 set of excel spreadsheets that pretty much were the same thing I had just done - only theirs have more basis in their numbers than mine.

I probably could have saved a few hours by using google and finding that site, but on the flip side I don't want to pay them for that bit of knowledge either - it just served as a good sounding board to let me know I was on the right track.

But there is the real power of google, when someone such as myself decides to release all of those excel templates for free. That would save a lot of people a lot of time and money, and granted I would not directly benefit from it financially, but I would have just saved countless resources.

Which leads into an idea I have and I will post on soon.


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