A popular essay by Eric Raymond from the late nineties analogized the competing software methods of the day to a Cathedral and a Bazaar. In one corner you had large institutions executing top-down mega-projects (Microsoft), while in the other corner was a thriving market of ad hoc, modular, community-based solutions (Linux). It was something of a religious/ideological debate and it continues to rear its head occasionally. While those operating systems continue to underpin personal computers and servers, the debate now seems somewhat quaint.
Today, we have Facebook competing with Google for control of users and for their flows of information. So here goes a new round of analogies:
Google = The Wizard of Oz
Facebook = Santa’s Workshop
On the one side you have a mysterious, omniscient being orchestrating our lives from behind the scenes by way of seemingly impossible feats of engineering/magic (Google). On the other, you have an army of elves in a workshop benevolently hammering out content.
In Google’s quest to return the most relevant search results, its algorithms do amazing things for guessing at what is relevant to You in particular. But, pure engineering can only take you so far. Enter Facebook’s “Like” button. The beauty of this feature is that your “Friends” can decide what is relevant for You. The Wizard just doesn’t know you that well. The result is that many people now view content by way of their news feed rather than through a Google search. In Web 2.0 marketing speak, lost eyeballs = lost profits.
Realizing that an algorithm alone has its limits, Google has drafted its own army of elves and released Google +1. Following a new look & feel for Google’s primary interface that appeared yesterday, the +1 button will be popping-up throughout Google properties (including AdWords ads). You’ll also see a +1 button on the Skunkworks home page as well as at the bottom of every blog post. Please use it. Tell us we’re relevant.
The Wizard is giving the masses some control. My take is that it depends on what you really think about the masses. Is there wisdom in crowds or just riots? Is a cat dancing on a piano relevant? What about the new landfill that the city is proposing? I guess we’ll see.