Quit Trying to Be the Next Google Dammit, Pt. 2: The Goal Should Be An Internet That Makes Us Better Humans

We have a houseguest, my husband and I. She is staying with us while she receives medical treatment, and will be here for a while.

I am on all my manners. I have almost stopped singing out loud to myself, and talking twee to the cat, and blurting out observations which make sense to me but no one else. I am cooking dinner and keeping the kitchen clean and checking twice a day to make sure there are plenty of clean towels in the linen closet. I do not feel much faith in my powers as a hostess — I am too big and rumpled and introverted and strange and I’m always convinced something will go wrong. I cooked pierogies and the house smelled like fried onions even hours later, and I went in the bathroom and cried because everything the house would smell like fried onions forever and I was the worst person in the world.

Through all this I go back to the Internet over and over again to try to be better. To find good recipes to cook. To do medical research. To figure out how to make our ancient bathroom sparkle. To get rid of the fried onion smell, dammit. To be a more productive person and a more effective hostess for this family member with her blue cane who is so, so patient with me and makes me feel ridiculous for crying over food.

I don’t say to myself that I am using Google because it indexes so many Web pages so quickly and thus and such. I don’t say to myself that I’m searching PubMed because it has so much information organized in such a way. I say to myself that I want to use THIS resource or THAT resource because it’s helping me in doing a job at which I feel completely rubbish. It’s making me better.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if instead of headline touting “the next Google” (a phrase which has 2,660,000 matches on Google itself, by the way), stories and Web pages encouraged aspiring companymakers to build the things that make us more capable and stronger? To encourage people to, instead of merely reflecting an existing quo, build tools that will expand horizons and give us new ways of being and lead us to becoming better humans?

… I suppose that now that I have admitted in front of God and everybody to crying over fried onion stink that I should also tell you my secret dream. My secret dream is to have a place to send every bit of information I look at. I read literally hundreds of RSS feeds. I am subscribed to dozens of Google Alerts. And my perfect day would be able to match every bit of information to someone who would be delighted to have it.

That’s my particular itch. To direct information to people who could use it. That’s why I spend so much time reading those feeds and alert services — because there are so many great resources out there, and more coming every day, and y’all don’t know them, and that drives me nuts.

If I were building an Internet company, that would be what I would build. A delivery system to tell you about all the beautiful stuff I find. A system that’s so simple and easy to use that I could spend 99% of my time finding and reporting the beautiful stuff and only 1% of the time doing bullshit, which is anything that’s not finding and reporting beautiful stuff.

Well meaning people would ask me, “Is it going to be like Google? Or Facebook?” And I would say “No no, if either of those worked for me I would be using them now.” And I would make something that worked perfectly for me, no matter how it ended up looking like. And then I would invite other people to play. And if they liked it, away we go! And if they didn’t — well, at least I had solved one of my own problems, yes?

Technology is for the purpose of us. We are not for the purpose of technology. When we aspire to merely imitate an existing structure we are doing ourselves a disservice. Even a better Google is still a Google. But to focus on solving a problem and letting people do better those things that make us so uniquely us — when that is your goal, you have moved outside history and technology becomes merely an element of construction and not a force that bends you.

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13 replies »

  1. I’m in tears. I am so much like you (except short and dumpy instead of tall and big). I would cry over fried onions, and they would be burned fried onions. I too want to share the thousand things rattling around in my head and found on the Net.

  2. I don’t even know if the comment I sent on your site will be there. I don’t know if this message will show up as a comment. The Internet is my houseguest that I will never be good enough for, except that it isn’t patient.


  3. Here’s the comment I couldn’t send on the first try. Who knows, maybe it will go twice.

    I’m in tears. I’m so much like you, except short and dumpy instead of tall. I would cry over fried onions and they would be burned fried onions. Like you, I desperately want to share the thousand things I have in my head and that I find on the Net.

  4. Got quite the chuckle over your onion episode….I also hate being plagued by cooking smells past their date. My large point in replying is to tell you how much I appreciate your posts. Listing my successes due to your research would take a great deal of time that is better spent on some other pursuit…like talking to pets when we are at home!

    Karen N. Nelson Chateau de Mors State Historic Site P O Box 106 Medora, ND 58645 701-623-4355 Follow us on Facebook! ________________________________

  5. I like what you do. There is no way I can keep up with all the information out there and Research Buzz helps me find some information. It is more to the point than the little I learn on facebook or elsewhere.

  6. Tara: Coming from you, this point of view carries tremendous weight. You have been at this business for a long time and you get it better than anyone out there. So when you say that we have not reached nirvana with our online tools, I hope folks sit up and pay heed. Google is spectacular indeed but it is often dumb as a box of rocks. Or is it me who’s as dumb, etc?

  7. Everytime I receive a copy of your email I find so many new and interesting things to share with all of my friends. Maybe that is how this “itch” is already being scratched – when we get your news we spread it to our friends and they spread it to their friends … anyway, I’m a Drupal developer and if you want to talk about scratching your itch in terms of something different to offer the internet, let’s talk sometime and who knows – maybe we’ll come up with a great idea for this itch of yours. respectfully yours, james aka fndtn357

  8. Tara, you are a wealth of information and I look forward to reading what you have all the time. If you are ever able to fulfill your ‘itch’ I believe you will have many followers and supporters.

  9. Well, I’ve wondered who was behind the ONLY email I religiously read (and forward) and am so happy to find a genuine person like you.
    Keep up the terrific work – your contributions are amazing. I’ll probably forward this one to a few select people, too.
    By the way, Ogden Nash said houseguests stink after 3 days. Maybe that’s what you smell. (;

  10. When the state of my mess keeps me from inviting people to the house, I try to remember this Erma Bombeck quote: “If I had my life to live over … I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded.”

    If one doesn’t sweat the small stuff, one will be using Google with less frequency. And anyway, for your house guest, the smell of fried onions will always be a reminder of your kindness.

  11. You’re highly talented. Keep striving towards your sincerely felt goal to provide something of value for people and one day, those who seek something will say: “I had to go to TARA to find it!”

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