[Note: I’m President of the board of the Metropolitan New York Library Council, but this post is only my own view.]
For some time now, the library world and its supporters have worried about the rise of the Google search engine. Here’s just a sample of articles from the last ten years that express this concern and, of course, push back against the Google tide:
- “Libraries vs. Google in the 21st Century”
- “Google vs. Library Databases: Which is Better for Research?”
- “The relationship between public libraries and Google”
- “Google It or Use the Library?”
- “Does the digital world need libraries?”
- “Do we need librarians now that we have the internet?”
- “Google vs libraries? Do we face an information dream or nightmare?”
And there was also John Palfrey’s 2015 book, “BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google”, which shares some themes of this post.
This concern has had such a profound effect that many libraries have effectively curtailed their reference librarian services as people instead “Google it”.
No doubt Google is formidable. While there have been ups and downs (like 2015) in Google’s share of the search engine market, it is obviously very high. Some estimates put it at 80% or higher.
But the world is changing and perhaps librarians aren’t aware of a nascent opportunity.
In an article about a month ago, the data scientist Vincent Granville took a closer look at the data about the ways people search and get information. He found “The Slow Decline of Google Search”. Here are some of the highlights:
“Google’s influence (as a search engine) is declining. Not that their traffic share or revenue is shrinking, to the contrary, both are probably increasing.”
“The decline (and weakening of monopoly) is taking place in a subtle way. In short, Google is no longer the first source of information, for people to find an article, a document, or anything on the Internet.”
“What has happened over the last few years is that many websites are now getting most of their traffic from sources other than Google.”
“Google has lost its monopoly when it comes to finding interesting information on the Internet.”
“Interestingly, this creates an opportunity for entrepreneurs willing to develop a search engine.”
As the New York Times reported recently about the announcement of the new Pixel phone, Google has noticed all this and is strategically re-positioning itself as an artificial intelligence company.
What has this got to do with the Apple story?
Apple is now the most valuable company in the world. That wasn’t always so. Indeed, it almost was headed for oblivion as the chart shows. Even now, its earlier business of selling personal computers hasn’t grown that much. It was able to add to its mix of products and services in a compelling way. It is one of the great turnaround stories in business history.
That history offers a lesson for librarians. The battle against what Google originally offered has been a tough one and libraries have suffered in the eyes of many people, especially the public officials and other leaders who provide their funding.
But looking forward, libraries should consider the opportunities arising from the fact that Google’s impact on Internet users is lessening, that the shine of Google’s “do no evil” slogan has worn off in the face of greater public skepticism and that artificial intelligence – really augmented human intelligence – is now a viable, disruptive technology.
As many once great and now defunct companies, other than Apple, show, there aren’t many second chances. Libraries should take advantage of its second chance to play the role that they should
in a knowledge and innovation economy.
© 2017 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved