[FoRK] French hit back against the Google invasion

Robert Harley robert.harley at gmail.com
Sat Feb 26 12:25:14 PST 2005

Yeah, the French tend to gloss over the horrors of the revolution and
pretend that the country was a awful monarchy up 'til then and a
sweetness-and-light republic afterwards.

Other than that, here's an Irish Times article with some Rohit-bits in it...

Irish Times February 25, 2005

Google can dance around competitors without falling over.  

Wired on Friday

Danny O'Brien

At first glance, Google's new map feature (http://maps.google.com)
doesn't look that much different from any of the other mapping
services online. The feature set is broadly the same: you type in an
address and get a map; you can zoom around to see neighbouring
features; and you can get driving directions. As is usual from
American companies, the maps are for the United States only. The data
is drawn from the same few sources as other online map
services. Nothing special here.

It seems a little disappointing that Google should be attempting to
enter this area. Yahoo and Mapquest both have established map
services. They're perfectly reasonable. Google uses them itself. When
you type a US address into the Google search box, it will often offer
you a link to one of these sites, pre-configured to show the address.

Before using it, then, this, new service seems to be part of the
overreach that most IPOed dotcom companies fall victim to.

It certainly isn't an improvement in what most people know Google for:
searching the Web. It's a dilution of Google's core competency.

Or is it? Two or three clicks in, and you notice a profound difference
between Google's offering and those of other companies. There's none
of that stop-start, hit button, wait, watch as the browser window
slowly reloads with your results.

When you drag the zoom lever, the map grows without disturbing the
surrounding text.

When you drag the mouse over the, map, it scrolls almost seamlessly,
giving the feeling of a tiny window over an entire United States
map. Request driving directions, and the route is redrawn over your
existing map as you watch. It feels, in other words, as responsive and
fluid as a desktop application, not a web application.

Google Maps is an example of a new kind of web page; one, that doesn't
require constant reloading to refresh its contents, but which
constantly, dynamically, redraws itself. While the famous search
engine has pioneered this approach on Google Maps, its email service
Google Mail, and another beta experiment, Google Suggest (which throws
up popular search terms as you type), it is certainly not the only
entity taking this approach.

Amazon's competitor to Google, A9, has similar features. The airline
search service, SideStep, updates air flights as you watch. Other
design companies, including San Francisco's web consultancy Adaptive
Path, are working with clients to include the technique in their own

Jesse James Garnett, the founder of Adaptive Path, calls the approach
Ajax, which describes the two technical components that lets the
system work: asynchronous Javascript and XML. Garrett says the main
challenge to Ajax isn't technical, it is the challenge of imagining
how it might be used.

The technology, at least on the browser side, shouldn't be
challenging. They've been around for years. Ajax pages work with
Internet Explorer 6, which was first launched four years ago. So why
haven't we seen such pages before online?

Has the imagination of the Web been so lacking for so long?

Some of the reason why the Web has not seen many pages with this
degree of interactivity is perhaps less to do with the limitations of
the browser, but the limits of web servers, and the understandably
risk-averse people who operate them.

When websites can have a few hundred users one day, and millions the
next, being able to predictably scale up your page delivery as your
traffic increases is an important consideration.

The worst thing that could happen to a website company is for their
site to "fall over" ­break so irretrievably as to refuse new visitors
- on the very day of their greatest popularity.

To concerned engineers, a page which reloads its data is something of
a challenge. It's not something that you would encourage your web page
designers to pursue without caution.

One company that realized this, several years ago, was a Silicon
Valley start-up called KnowNow. Composed of very smart web theorists,
the company worked hard on building servers that could cope with a
more dynamic Web, and scale predictably.

Admittedly, the dynamic Web that KnowNow was attempting to engineer
was a little more complex than Ajax. "The technical difficulties with
Ajax are equivalent to coping with multiple reloads of the same page,"
says the company's founder, Rohit Khare, "But it's just the first step
to a more interactive, asynchronous Web and there are definitely
technical challenges to creating that new Web." Perhaps the primary
reason we haven't seen this before is because so few companies were
willing - or had the research and development budget - to learn more
about Ajax-style pages.

Now Google is raising the bar again. Once you've played around with
the company and it's fellow Ajax-users' dynamic experiments, you see
how it could improve almost every web page.

Google's core competency, it is becoming increasingly apparent, is not
so much search, it is its institutional knowledge of the possibilities
of the Web: both on the browser side and the server engineering
required to scale up such new services to a reasonable size.

It's an odd economy of scale: Google isn't able to do these things
because it is bigger, but ­because it's learnt how to grow bigger
without - so far - breaking. Anyone can put up a web page - or a
mapping service - Google is saying, but how many can make it dance
like this, and never fall over?

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