Stop the Presses, LJ Index and more.


Early last year Don Marti forwarded an exceptionally clueless e-mail from a public relations person. His subject line said, “Bad flack! No bisquit!” I nearly died laughing, since (I hate to confess) I've done serious time as a flack myself. Since then BFNB has entered the private lexicon here at Linux Journal. And, now we'll share a few choice nuggets with the rest of you:

  • “If you would like to speak to __ executives about __'s future plans and how Linux 7.1 affects the Internet, network environments and the IT world...”

  • “__ also doesn't discriminate against computers using the Linux operating system. The __ has an open architecture, which means Linux users can customize it for their networks by loading their own proprietary software on top of __'s software.”

  • “I?am taking?the?liberty?of?reintroducing? you?to?__in?case?you?did?not?receive?our?previous?correspendence.?This?is ?an?excellent?opportunity?for?the?serious?investor?who,?like?us,feels? the?energy?sector?is?the?place?to?be?in?these?times?of?rising?oil?and ?gas?prices.”

  • “The 70s were cool. Earth, Wind and Fire, tank tops and mood rings were all the rage. Thirty years later, in 2001, the 70s remain cool. So don't throw away your old low-rider jeans, choker necklaces or mainframe computers—what's old is now cool, and it's called retro. __ lets you retro-fit your old technology into today's hippest platform.”

That last one never said a word about what __ was, or what it did. We must assume, however, that Linux was indeed the hippest platform.

—Doc Searls

Linux-Based Googlestructure

I remember when some Linux geek told me about Google several years back. He said the new search engine, then in public beta, was going to kick butt because they were building it on Linux servers. I didn't believe him. At the time my preferred search engine was HotBot, which consistently outperformed all the other search engines at what I cared about most: finding documents based on text strings, some of them buried deep in a page's text. HotBot recently had supplanted AltaVista as my first-choice search engine. Before AltaVista I liked InfoSeek (I was one of those few who actually subscribed to InfoSeek's services). And before that I liked Lycos, which was still an academic project at Carnegie-Mellon. Eventually HotBot lost out to FAST, the BSD-based engine with an utterly mismatched URL: alltheweb.com. But resistance was futile. Google got me.

At first I didn't like Google because it was too simple and too insistent about knowing what I wanted. I hated that. Still do. But I came to love Google, because dammit, they did seem to know what I wanted—not always, but often enough. Now, like most of us, I hardly use anything else.

Today the other engines are also-rans. With each new step forward in functionality (image and newsgroup searches, file-type searches, additional languages), Google seems to leave the others farther and farther behind.

I hadn't spoken to the Google folks in a while, so thought I'd check in and get some specifics, including the answer to the most existential question of all: are they making money yet? So I went to my old neighbor Cindy McCaffrey, Google's vice president of marketing, who told me:

We're profitable. Advertising has been a big contributor to that profitability. Both of our ad programs (Premium Sponsorships, AdWords) are ramping up quickly. We have thousands of advertisers and have just begun expanding our advertising internationally with the opening of small ad sales offices in the UK, Japan and Germany.

This was particularly interesting to me because the ads are a lot like newspaper classifieds, which are the only form of advertising for which there is high reader demand. Like classifieds, ads on Google are unobtrusive and contain no graphics. When I asked one advertiser how well the ads work, he said, “Very well. All our advertising is on Google.” In fact, they work so well that he advertises in spite of his objection to Google's policy of seeking patents for its technologies, a practice he despises. Cindy added:

The keyword-targeted approach is working well for us. Our click-through rates average about 2+ percent, about four to five times higher than the industry average for traditional banner ads. We also offer search services to other companies such as Yahoo!, Cisco, Sony, etc.—about 130 customers in about 30 countries. The split between these two revenue sources is roughly 50/50.

I asked if the company's mission had changed at all. My guess was that it hadn't, since it never succumbed to the distractions that trivialized vanquished competitors: stock prices, sports scores, cross-promotions with entertainment sites, etc. She said no, their mission is what it's always been: “To organize the world's information, making it universally accessible and useful.”

It might not be a stretch to say that Google has, for many of us, become part of the web's infrastructure—its search interface. To get some sense of how far that interface reaches, I asked Cindy to send me some numbers. Here they are:

  • data centers: 4

  • Linux computers: >10,000

  • searches per day: >150 million

  • index of web pages: >1.6 billion

  • image base: >330 million

  • Usenet messages: >650 million

  • newsgroups: >5,000

  • language subsets in the index: 28

  • international domain sites: 23

  • PDFs: >22 million

Many of those are “most on the Web”, she modestly added. But she declined to confirm the hypothesis offered by that geek who turned me on to Google in the first place: that Linux was the reason. Guess we have to draw our own conclusions.

—Doc Searls