It’s been a busy week for Google. Three interesting announcements were made at the Googleplex this week, and while none will change your life, they’re all worthy of a brief comment. First up is a new government search page targeted at both US government workers and the general public. Just like Google’s personalized homepage for consumers, the government search portal features a selection of news feeds, all of which are government-related, though these can be swapped out for any RSS feed of your choice.
As for searches themselves, most return results similar to those provided by a standard Google search with the “site: .gov” limiter in place. The search technology doesn’t represent anything too revolutionary, but it does provide a nice interface to those government workers or contractors who do most of their searching within government web pages. Google is trying to beef up its presence in the federal government, where it already enjoys a strong presence in agencies like the National Park Service. To that end, they have also hired a new director of federal sales who will be based in Herndon, VA.
Google Earth, the bane of Vice President Dick Cheney (he requested that the Vice President’s DC residence be obscured), has just launched a new version of its client software that includes substantially improved high-resolution imagery. The update also makes it simpler for more users to create 3-D models and insert them into the world. In a move not calculated to make Dick Cheney any happier, one user has already posted a reconstruction of the VP shooting his hunting partner and placed it at the spot where it was reported to have occurred. The Vice President’s antics can be seen by Linux users as well, who now have a Penguin-powered version of Google Earth to call their own.
Finally, Google shows some love for Shakespeare with a new portal that provides full-text access to Shakespeare’s plays, courtesy of the Google Book Search program. Google also suggests using its various tools to investigate the author in more depth by visiting the reconstructed Globe in London using Google Earth, or watching clips about the Bard from Google Video.
The eclectic mix of announcements is something that we’ve come to expect from Google, but the new announcements show how Google’s long list of disparate initiatives is finally coming together into something a bit more cohesive. Take the Shakespeare site, for instance. Though a minor announcement in the grand scheme of things, it shows how different Google resources (such as Groups, Scholar, Video, Image Search, Book Search, and News) can be combined to produce interesting resources.
The announcement also highlights another aspect of Google’s development: its preference for algorithms over human activity. The Shakespeare resources are all provided by automatic searches, which has its ups and downs—both of which are vividly illustrated by the Google Video link. Because it’s all done automatically, the Shakespeare videos listed are not necessarily of equal value. While you can see a production of Twelfth Night from 1910, you can also see a white dude rapping about Shakespeare. This approach no doubt made it simple for Google to launch the Shakespeare portal, but it can also limit the usefulness of such tools. On the other hand, it can also expose you to unique items that a “curated” site would never offer (*cough* rapping high school students *cough*).