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by Robin Hansson, online editor

This is potentially dangerous. With the possible number of visitors per month resembling the population of five average European countries, Google’s power to influence economies—even governments--is frightening. So far, Google’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, have stayed out of politics, but what would happen if that changed?

Page and Brin launched the search engine Google.com in 1998 with the intention of taking search engines to a different level. By optimizing already known technology, Brin and Page created a more accurate, fair, but most importantly, faster search engine than ever seen before. Everybody loved it. Its stylistic, advertising-free design seemed to charm grandmas as well as avid computer hackers.
Google’s popularity hasn’t stagnated. With record revenues of more than $1 billion for the quarter ended Dec. 31, 2004, and an average of 81.9 million visitors every month, Google is the fourth most popular site on the Web today.

With success came skeptics. Two things that Google has been criticized for are, ironically, the same things that made them popular in the first place. The first thing is their irregularity when it comes to advertising. Brin and Page refuses to advertise cigarette brands or alcohol on Google, despite the revenue these would generate. On the other hand, pornography sites are frequently advertised without, apparently, a second thought.

The second aspect is Google’s page-ranking system, which determines the order in which Web sites will show up in key word search results.

Brin and Page’s concept was simple; put the most important Web sites on top. But who decides what’s important? According to Page, the one who decides is Brin. This is an aspect seldom thought of, but it can also make or break any Internet-based company. If a company were on top of the list for a period of time, and then all of a sudden fell down to, let’s say, the fifth page, the number of visitors would fall, not just a little, but dramatically.

If a company selling computers over the Internet has been on the first page when the key word “computers” is entered, it’s likely to have a large bank account. The number of visitors on its site would be perhaps 10,000 per day. An accepted Internet sales equation says that approximately one percent of all visitors will end up buying one or more of this company’s products. It doesn’t take a math genius to figure out that those numbers will generate a solid income. However, if a company is on the seventh page it might, if lucky, have 15-20 visitors a day and one percent of that won’t keep it afloat.

With that in mind, think about what could happen if Page and Brin were interested in politics. They could, without effort, reach more than 80 million people every month until election day.



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Web site designed and maintained by Robin Hansson.