Much is made about the dangers of Google becoming an all-powerful, all-embracing force which will soon control the Internet and stifle the anarchic individualism which has always been a key element of this most democratic of all mediums. Many such claims are simply re-workings of the allegations which were made about Microsoft a generation earlier, and practically all the claims are nothing more than sour grapes served on a bed of envious salad leaves.
In its prime, Microsoft brought enormous benefits to computer users which far surpass any associated drawbacks resulting from its market dominance. And today Google is pushing back the boundaries of on-line information at a pace that can be bewildering, but at the same time has the ability to take your breath away.
As I noted the other day, I am currently reading David McCullough's excellent description of the construction of the Panama Canal, "The Path Between The Seas". I always find that the reading of history is enhanced by the ability to cross-reference key events in contemporary archives, and the best archives are so often contemporary newspapers. In the past this could often be a difficult, time-consumer and costly task. Newspaper archives were difficult to access and often expensive to use. Until Google stepped into the picture, that is.
Imagine the now famous Google Street View Camera Van with its roof-mounted 360 degree camera, driving not down the back streets of leafy Surrey, but through the great newspaper archives of the world. It may sound far-fetched, but this is what is happening in a tiny corner of the Google empire. The results of this exercise are increasingly available on the Google News site. Just type in your search term and get Google to search its archives rather than current news sources. The results are absolutely fascinating. Try it for world events, try it for your local village, try it for your grandfather (Just see what the New York Times has to say about your grandfather JGC!), or try it for the Panama Canal. When this Google cam comes driving down an archive near me, I will cheer it on its way.