Is Google God?

Seriously, there are “Googlists” behind who offer incontrovertible proof that Google is God:

  • Google is the closest thing to an Omniscient entity in existence, which can be scientifically verified
  • Google is everywhere at once
  • Google answers prayers
  • Google is potentially immortal
  • Google is infinite
  • Google remembers all
  • Google can “do no evil”
  • “Google” is searched for more than “God”, “Jesus”, “Allah”, “Buddha”, “Christianity”, Islam”, “Buddhism” and “Judaism” combined!
  • Evidence of Google’s existence is abundant.

Compelling evidence, and if you’ve read the many books on Google, it’s hard not to believe Larry and Sergey have just a touch of a Messiah complex about them.

But is our faith in Google unshakable? A little while back I was talking to Jacqueline Krones, a senior product manager at Bing, who headed up a large-scale ethnographic study of search usage. Microsoft has repeated this study every three years, starting in 2004 and following up in 2007 and 2010. Over those three studies, Krones found an interesting shift in attitudes towards search in general, and, by extension, to Google specifically.

“In 2004, people said that knowledge lives with experts and the experts help them make decisions. In 2007 people said that search engines actually had all of the knowledge in the world and it was just there for them to go out and pull it out. In 2010 people told us that they created their own knowledge – that even though the search engine never really had all the knowledge in the world, it was linked to information.”

That arc of our collective attitude adjustment towards search becomes interesting when you apply it to the parallel development of Google’s hubris. In 2004, Google filed for their IPO and were just getting used to being the world’s dominant search engine. The “start up” glow was still very much alive and Google truly believed they could do no wrong.

In 2007 all indications were that Google really could do no wrong. While it wasn’t exactly the same collegial atmosphere of 2004, Google was rushing full speed ahead on multiple fronts. Acquisitions were racking up at an impressive rate and it seemed that Google was assembling all the needed pieces for total online domination. In fact, it wasn’t only online that Google wanted to dominate. It was print, TV, radio, wireless, power, books, the Earth and space. Corporate America was holding it’s collective breath, waiting to see which industry Google was going to set its attention deficit sites on next.

By 2010, we had learned that Google was all too fallible, just like the rest of us. Do you remember Google Catalog, Google Answers, Orkut or Google TV ? Well, with the exception of Google TV, where the wounds are still fresh and largely gouged on the back of Logitech, not many of us do. Many of the highflying plans of 2007 had crashed back to earth. Google retreated back to its core – making money in search.

If the trends in Krone’s research hold across the general population, it appears that while we once worshiped Google, we now regard it in a less remarkable light. It’s a search engine – a pretty good search engine – but it’s hardly the answer to our loftier prayers.

I know this sounds sacrilegious to the ears of a Google-fearing Googlist. But guess when the site was launched? That’s right, 2007. Given the euphoria of the time, perhaps you Googlists can be forgiven for your blind worship.

If it makes you feel better, click on the nearest Google ad and make a donation to Google on my behalf.

Orig­i­nally pub­lished in Mediapost’s Search Insider August 11, 2011