Google Eating Fiber for Optimal Growth
By Jim Hedger, StepForth News Editor, StepForth Placement Inc.,
January 19, 2005
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Cyberspace is almost always bigger than we think but big does have its
limits. Logic tells us that the environment known as cyberspace is finite.
It can grow but there are always definite numbers or statistics that can
be used to measure its boundaries. To be practical, the boundaries of
cyberspace are defined by bandwidth-capacity. Google, which lives in a
world of infinite possibilities doesn't accept the concept of finite gracefully.
Faced with the obvious limitations of growth to the Internet as we know
it, Google is doing the most logical thing possible. It is grabbing more
bandwidth-space in order to allow it to expand the current finite boundaries
In the realm of cyberspace there exists a virtual land that time forgot.
It was buried years ago, before the crash. Cyberspace exists wherever its
energy flows. Back in the wild days of the pre-millennial tech-boom, lots
and lots of fiber was laid, likely under a city near you. After the dot-com
crash, this network of fiber optic cable was rendered virtually useless
by the sudden absence of anyone with enough cash to access it. The boom
built the backbone but the crash made much of it surplus. Real estate is
almost always a good investment, especially when land gets scarce. Google
is said to be buying surplus, pre-laid fiber optic cable wherever it can.
It is also looking for folks who know exactly what to do with it.
In a recent blog post at searchenginelowdown, Andy Beal suggests Google
might be developing a new cyber-network. Yesterday, my colleagues and I
were thinking along the same lines. Andy is known to be a very smart guy
and serendipity says this is a good theory to start on.
A New Net?
Google could be creating an alternative Internet. We understand the current
Internet environment simply because for most of us, it is all we know. Aside
from the evolving laws of electro-physics, is there anything preventing
a group of young geniuses from dreaming up an alternative Internet after
a short game of street-hockey?
There are some interesting factors that support this theory. First and
most importantly, the United States constitutes the world's largest user-market.
Now that the majority of that market is accessing the Internet using a high-speed
(broadband) connection larger file types, like movies, can be downloaded
by home-users very easily. The commercial infrastructure to support legal
entertainment distribution is being built at breakneck speeds, but it comes
five years too late. Now the legal distributors are in the unfortunate position
of having to call for a virtual clampdown on illegal file-trading while
trying to rebuild their businesses to meet the REAL new-economy. This, of
course, has threatening implications for Google and the way Google does
Another factor is the mounting complaints around AdWords and AdSense. Click-fraud
has been noted as a major concern for businesses. Much of that stems from
unscrupulous webmasters finding ways to fool Google into paying them much
more than they deserve. A critical flaw in the AdSense business plan makes
Google dependent on a high AdSense click-through rate. Some analysts have
estimated click-fraud to represent 5% or more of Google's billable income.
That is a huge problem that threatens to undermine advertiser confidence
in AdWords. As a business model, AdWords may not be sustainable without
a massive overhaul that might generate as much bad PR as it would stabilize
The third factor adding credence to the concept of a Google-built alternative
universe is the mix of cool/good-works kind of company Google wishes to
be. I actually believe them when they say, "Don't be Evil". I
just don't believe the real world will let them be good all the time. Commercial
and legal pressure is quickly making the Web a much more regulated space.
Consumers are starting to realize the extent of behavioral monitoring that
currently happens on the Internet. Now that personal data-mining has become
the finest of the rotten sciences, monitoring of user-behavior happens to
virtually everyone. Knowing about consumers is one thing. Using that knowledge
to deliver a universe particular to their desires is quite another. Would
it be "evil" of Google to attempt to do this? Not if you asked
them to create a universe for you.
That universe might be a better space than the current version of the Internet.
The net has some significant problems, the greatest of which is also one
of the biggest attractors for young net users. The lack of commercial broadband
access for US consumers led to the development of massive offshore piracy
networks. Most people know someone who has downloaded pirated music or movies.
The real root cause for the growth of online piracy was a lack of commercial
infrastructure to allow consumers to get the goods legally. That critical
infrastructure is only now being built and the web is liable to become the
massive shopping mall that marketers dream of. I grew up around shopping
malls and in my rebellious adulthood, I simply can't stand them anymore.
I think most Net users feel the same way and vision the Internet as a better
place to do commerce than the mall.
What if Internet users wanted something different? William Gibson, the
author who popularized the term cyberspace, wrote of virtual representations
of the physical universe that users would enter and virtually exist within.
There are actually models that exist on the Internet aside from gaming communities
but consumer home-bandwidth limitations stifled growth. Now that bandwidth
is not the factor it once was, Googlites can really start to think differently.
Just as "Thinking Different" was easier for Apple to say than
do, creating different in the current Internet environment is easier said
than done. You need to control the infrastructure. Even if that control
means making sure that nobody really gains control, the creators of something
new need to control the basic environment in which that something evolves
in. That's what the unused sections of the backbone might really represent
to Google. If you can't join them comfortably, create another universe.
Infinity is possible, but only for the creator.
While user acceptance might slow implementation of an alternative online-network;
why not dream of one now, acquire the infrastructure to facilitate its growth
and crank out the code that makes it work. The alpha-test phases can be
run out of the equivalent of several large filing cabinets without disturbing
the current Internet in any way. When conditions are ready for mass-market
acceptance, give the people what they tell you they want. That's not really
evil. It is effective long-term planning.
But what if Google is not considering building another universe? There
is still a lot that can be done with that much bandwidth. There are at least
two other credible theories that are based on Google stocking up for a more
robust version of the current Internet.
Google's future is based on the continued growth of the commercial Internet
and the exploitation of new consumer applications. Within the next two years,
the Internet will become one of the primary conduits of home-entertainment
options. It will also play a larger role in helping time-harried consumers
plan their basic-life tasks such as shopping, bill paying and home maintenance.
Microsoft is extremely interested in home-networking which is one of the
reasons I think Longhorn's release has been so delayed. There is going to
be a lot more information to examine in the near future than there is today.
Television can be created on the fly and posted rapidly. World events like
music festivals or football matches can be broadcast to billions. Desperate
Housewives can come into our hard-drives anytime we want them too. Miss
the Godfather trilogy? Soon you won't have to hope it is in at the video
store. It will always be in stock and crisper than ever before. The home-entertainment/life-management
phase of the information revolution is about to begin.
Buying surplus fiber optic networks will allow Google to do at least two
essential things. First, it lets Google create full copies of file-types
that would make most e-commerce sites look tiny. Secondly, it allows Google
to support tools and applications that require a lot of user-server interaction.
Google has access to technologies that have not been commercially introduced
as yet. Some of the stuff they have been treated to, as recently as last
week is virtually unknown to all but the programmers and those who read
between the lines of press releases religiously.
Google is full of sensible geniuses who understand that fiber is an essential
part of any diet designed to create the conditions for market domination.
Remember the "size-wars" of previous years? Google needs the added
bandwidth muscle to move files that are simply too big for anyone else.
In many ways, this theory makes a bit more sense than the original theory
that Google may be creating an alternative Internet. The Internet is changing
and Google is gearing up to meet new challenges.
A last theory says Google is preparing to become one of the world's largest
ISPs. Google is buying fiber in a number of places and could create an international
ISP if it wanted to. This would make sense and would allow Google nearly
unlimited freedom to do whatever it wanted to do with the network it establishes.
Distributed networking, in which Google makes use of users' CPUs when they
are not using them may be part of the end-user agreement for a free Google
ISP account. Becoming an ISP might actually save Google a lot of money in
the long run and allow it to emulate the successes of AOL. By harnessing
the immense power of unused processors that are almost always connected
to the net, Google might be able to cut the costs associated with running
the massive server-farms that power their search engine. It would also provide
the ultimate branding tool and could provide a stable base for financial
growth. In some cases, it would also allow Google to exercise a bit more
control over AdWords/AdSense by providing webmasters with free space to
post pages AdSense ads appear.
Becoming an ISP would also make Google a global telecommunications provider.
With the expected rise in VOIP applications, owning bandwidth is going to
be tremendously important, much like ownership of telephone or cable lines
What do you get when you take the world's largest information resource
and add the biggest amount of unused but very real bandwidth-space in existence?
I don't really know myself but I can't wait to find out. Whatever emerges,
it will be built on a uniquely powerful foundation.
There is one final finite factor that rules all others and is the one that
made the surplus of fiber in the first place. That factor is money. Right
now, Google has lots of money, peaking above $206/share earlier today. I
remember when lots of firms had lots of money. So does Google. They used
to be neighbors.
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