Web Letters | The Nation

Web Letter

As the number of web pages on the internet grows larger - which it is doing exponentially - the number of wrong answers to any search query also grows. As the haystack gets bigger it becomes harder to find the needle. For this reason, the best search algorithm will win.

Perhaps more importantly, as the age of the internet increases, the number of web pages that are no longer there will also increase. Who possesses this mammoth archive? The answer is Google.

No one outside the company really knows how many servers Google has. Some outsiders estimate at least 100,000 machines already. Increasingly, these machines will hold the history of the internet - the web pages of old. There will be no other place to get them.

This is no small matter. Since the 1990's, we have been participating in a new age of history - the digital age. This is as profound a change as the shift from prehistoric Egypt to historic Egypt. Every photo taken before the dawn of digital history - unless it has been scanned into a digital format and replicated on the web - is in danger of being lost to future historians. More importantly, it will not be searchable. It will not be a part of future analysis of historic trends in any meaningful way. It will not be in the data base.

With the possible exception of some mammoth government archive - and few people believe this actually exists - only Google is thinking ahead enough to save our digital history. The importance of internet advertising, for example, will pale in comparison with this irreplaceable asset.

John Baltic

Macomb, Michigan

Mar 23 2007 - 10:01pm

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