A nice article in The New York Times puts Google’s rise in perspective:
what has really carried Google to the top is a change in our perception of the Internet. Some of the predictions made for the Internet in the late 1990’s were as outlandish as they sounded, especially the economic ones. But a surprising number of predictions about how we would use the Web are being fulfilled.
Google has found ways to make advertising pay without making advertising obtrusive something the big-banner portals are only now starting to figure out. It has changed the way we shop, travel and get basic information about our economic and cultural climates. Perhaps the most fundamental difference since those early days is an enormous change in the usefulness and credibility of what one can find on the Internet.
Make no mistake. The Web is still a place where you find every kind of fraud, deceit, obscenity and insanity more of it than ever, in fact. But the Internet has also turned into a stunningly important archive of documents of all kinds, partly because it is now so easily searchable. The Web has moved from the periphery of a good researcher’s awareness in 1998 to the very center of it in 2004. In doing so, it confirmed what has always been true, that a good researcher is also a skeptical researcher.
Had the Web grown to be the farrago of nonsense it once seemed to be, a haystack with only a few needles, no one would have bothered to create a search engine, much less use it. But the Web is now a haystack full of needles. Once Google’s motto might have been “Seek and ye shall find.” Now it’s really “Find and ye shall seek again.”
What Google also reflects is our changing sense of the dynamism of the Web. Nothing captures how statically we used to see the Internet as well as “information highway,” an old phrase that embodies pure linearity and the smell of asphalt. That stasis is also captured in the increasingly outmoded notion of an Internet portal like AOL, much of whose dynamism comes from offering a Google search bar. The fact is that many of us have grown comfortable within the amorphousness of the Web. We no longer need a breakwater like AOL when a good search engine promises to make the sea itself our home.
Sometimes the best metaphor for the Internet seems to be the population of earth itself, in which every human is a Web page related by kinship and conversation to all the other Web pages on earth. Sometimes the metaphor is a globe papered over with hyperlinked Web pages from which, more and more, tiny beacons arise, beaming updates to our computers like the old RKO tower. Whatever the metaphor, the only certainty is that we’re going to need help finding anything for a long time yet to come.