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April 29, 2003

A public radio commentary

We live, of course, in the information age. Flowing at us in an astonishing amount: We have millions of books, cable TV brings in hundreds of channels, and we have the greatest pipeline of information in history - the World Wide Web.

It now has over a billion pages, hooked together by over seven billion hyperlinks - that's one link for every person on this earth.

But information, of course, isn't knowledge. The first step in turning this glut into knowledge is to organize it. For the web there is one standout: Google.

About 150 million times a day, someone uses Google to search for information on the web. Type in some words, click, and up pops a list of pages arranged - and this is the amazing part - from most useful to least useful. How in the world does Google do this?

First, Google is no amateur operation. It's a company of 650 people who focus full time on one task: How to be the most accurate and fastest search engine in the world. In 1999 a typical search took three seconds, now it's less than a tenth of that.

To organize the web, Google uses a very clever method. Its developers realized that the web could be pictured like a road map. They thought of links from one page to another as roads, where the destination were web pages. They surmised that the pages with the most roads leading to them were the most useful.

For example, they took all of the web page that contained the phrase "public radio", and ranked them from the most linked to the least linked. Not surprisingly, - the home page of National Public Radio - shows up first, followed by, Public Radio Internationals home page. In addition to this main method, Google uses other tricks. For example, they also look at the placement of the text: If "public radio" is in capital letters or near the top of the page, it's more likely to be mostly about that subject, than a page where it is in small type or near the bottom. So effective is Google that its meets my personal criterion for being named a superstar technology, which is this: When a technology becomes so commonplace that we use it for amusement, its then a superstar technology. This has happend for Google: Users have invented the game Googlewhack. To play you find two search words that when typed into Google, deliver one and only one web page. For example, the words "ellipsoidal triathlete" will turn up one and only one web page.

Myself, I really like Google because it's given me new purpose in life. When you type my last name "Hammack" - H-A-M-M-A-C-K - I come up number two. My new goal, of course, is to become number one. So, friends, start linking.

Copyright 2003 William S. Hammack Enterprises