Google's brilliant salesmen

Google became a verb some time ago, through its suite of services it’s now graduated to being an ent

Having just celebrated their tenth anniversary, the boys at the big G have been so busy doing no evil of late, it’s becoming difficult to keep track.

In the last week or so, Google has launched a new web browser, version 3 of its image management software (with face recognition), sent a satellite into orbit (part financed by the DoD) to take pictures for use in Google Maps, filled in some of that pesky missing data on the map of Georgia and provided some tech-infrastructure for the Republican National Convention.

In all of this activity one of the initiatives that has been less reported is the announcement that they are stepping up the newspaper digitisation programme, which started back in 2006. The main development is the addition of full facsimile images of print pages, searchable and reproduced on screen using a very elegant browser-based reader. This gives an enriched account of the reported news of the time, contextualised by the advertising and print design of the day… At least, that’s if you can find something. There’s a very limited set of records available so far, although what there is proves compelling. The experience of seeing the microfiche translated to the browser is hugely seductive, and one could be tempted to sit back and breathe a sigh of relief that this is another element of your intellectual and professional life that you’ll soon be able to outsource to those well-meaning boys on the West Coast.

With an antitrust suit brewing around the proposed Yahoo! Deal (which could result in Google controlling (80 per cent of the online advertising market) it’s easy to be distracted from the monopolies which Google are already creating. Major universities are outsourcing their email to gMail, Google Apps is providing free groupware software for major organisations, tools such as the News archive are revolutionising the way in which research can be carried out and they are sole custodians of personal data the likes of which governments and credit agencies only dream of holding. But whilst the chirpy altruism of Page and Brin has propelled the company from student project through ten years of startling growth, the ‘no evil’ mantra surely can’t sustain it for a great deal longer. Even disregarding the concerns of the fiscal monopoly, we are becoming intellectually and professionally dependent on this extraordinary company. Google became a verb some time ago, through its suite of services it’s now graduated to being an entire workplace.

Google are software pioneers changing the landscape of the way we work and learn, but we shouldn’t forget what their business model and only major revenue stream is. They are brilliant ad-salesman.

Happy birthday Google!

Iain Simons writes, talks and tweets about videogames and technology. His new book, Play Britannia, is to be published in 2009. He is the director of the GameCity festival at Nottingham Trent University.
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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.