Google’s Success (NGC4LIB)

On Fri, 8 May 2009 11:48:01 -0400, Tim Spalding wrote:

>Every time libraries talk about the “powers that be” they should
>remember *they* are the powers that be. Their combined financial and
>mindshare power is enormous. They don’t need to make money, but only
>provide a service people want. Something else is to blame for Google’s
>success than bad branding.

I think one of the main reasons for Google’s success vis-a-vis libraries is
that libraries have always operated on “geologic time.” By nature they are
highly cautious. (I still refer to the internet as something new!) Libraries
have been burned with new technologies in lots of ways, so they want to make
very sure before actually taking the leap. There is also the idea that
libraries should not act independently, rather it is through the “community
of libraries” where they need to respond to any new issues, and this slows
things down even more, especially when you throw in proprietary computer
systems. Libraries seem to have an idea that their patrons want the “tried
and the true,” that people will get completely confused and frustrated by
problems that have only a slight chance of popping up, and so on. Add all
this up, and you have a field that is highly cautious.

Google has a completely different ethos: they can experiment, throw out the
bad, change in a moment, update and so on. It turns out that people don’t
really care that much whether or not something is the same as it was
yesterday. In fact, for many, if a site doesn’t change regularly, they may
assume that they know it all already and there is no need to look at it
again. So, Google changes the logo regularly; the search results can be
quite different almost every day; they allow their staff to experiment
liberally and to put their experiments out to the general public, where they
can easily fail. And it’s OK if they fail. Compare this to the library type
of development, which is slow moving, includes the “community of libraries”
and so on, and it becomes much more difficult to admit that some new project
is a failure.

Only now is there a push from libraries to replicate in some way the
corporate ethos that brought Google success. With open-source software, real
development is possible for even the smallest institutions. But I think it
may take a different generation of librarians to get away from the
stereotypical cautious-library approach. I hope not, though.

Jim Weinheimer

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