Here’s what Google would do

The irony is just too obvious: Google buys a paper factory in and replaces its machines (like the one above) with a data center.

Note, too, the irony – or at least symmetry – of this happening in Finland, where its proudest company, Nokia, shifted from making paper to making phones that also traffic in digits.

Whenever I find myself in a whither-print discussion (as happened, of course, at this week’s O’Reilly Tools of Change conference), somebody will point out that one medium doesn’t replace another. At a panel discussion elsewhere this week, one of the speakers said the telegraph was the only medium that was replaced by its successor.

But the discussion shouldn’t be around paper. It’s about change. I realized lately that I’d been assuming we could see an orderly transition, Jan. 20-like, from old media to new. But it’s clear that we’re going to see destruction, voids, and vacuums in the transition. The Finnish paper factory closed first and now it’s being converted to a server farm. Newspapers will die this year and there’ll be silence before successors emerge. Change is rarely smooth.

  • I think the transition from a newspaper industry to a news industry, from paper products to online products, and from newspaper reporters to Web correspondents will be anything but orderly. I most certainly agree that newspapers as we know them are coming to an end.

  • Jeff: I just wanted to say congrats on launching the book.

  • I have the book, and I look forward to reading it this weekend. I’m told it’s the book all newspaper execs should read.

  • Ha ha, the telegraph wasn’t replaced. It evolved from morse code into baudot and the teletype, then TCP and then internet — digital transmissions over a wire. It’s just taken 175 years to make serious inroads against the millenniums-old system of putting ink on wood-pulp/papyrus and sending it out on trucks/donkeys.

  • hello. slightly off topic. I’m just 40 pages into your book, and really enjoying it. thanks. Paul

  • Tom Davidson

    Ken, we may be agreeing more than disagreeing, but a “yes but:” Tthe method of transmitting information via telegraph evolved into TCP/IP.

    But Western Union is a mere shell of what it once was, and ITT doesn’t exist in a meaningful way anymore, does it? (It now makes … water pumps.)

    • Perhaps Tom. I guess I see the electrical telegraph medium as digital code over cable, which is still around. We just replaced Morse sets and Western Union lines with teletype over wires operated by the phone company, and so on. It doesn’t matter to me who owns the cables or made the equipment or what encoding is used. (I’m only just old enough to have used morse code with wirelesses sets, and remember packet radio and tty, and usenet servers calling each other on the phone at night, so maybe i just see more of the “missing links” in the evolution than most). But you’re probably right that we mostly agree, and I agree with the original point that few mediums disappear. Mostly they just evolve, perhaps become the bottom layer of a more complex system, and the world gets richer. Its hard to find examples that genuinely disappeared.

      • Walter Abbott

        Good discussion here. While individual companies go, the technology they developed remains. Indeed the telegraph has merely evolved, and it – like ink on papyrus – is a broadcast system. One to many. Prior to broadcast the only way to share information was one to one.

        Now we have the web. It combines the speed and coverage of broadcast with interactivity. Many to many.

        Information sharing can no longer be controlled.

  • Isaac

    I have a question: What would Google do if it was struggling to become the dominant search engine in the world’s third-largest Internet population?

    If you guessed launch a pay-per-click campaign that would get you and me kicked off of Google, you’d be correct. Pay Per Post: Google Uses Every Trick To Beat Yahoo In Japan

    Jeff, I admire your writing and your ideas. They’ve made me think and been an inspiration. But I think Google has begun to change since the time you started to write your book… I wish it wasn’t true but the idea of Google green lighting a pay-per-click campaign is about as serious as any media scandal I can recall. The funny thing is the New York times was more transparent in their investigation of Jayson Blair than Google has been. Read this weak apology

    I don’t mean to make this a pissing match between Google/newspapers because that’s pointless. But lately it seems that Google is acting like any other company and not one worthy of a pedastal.

    So how about answering this: What would Jeff Jarvis do if your search engine was caught running a pay-per-click scheme?

  • On a related note there is this post at Scam Diego regarding the San Diego Union/Tribune’s implementation of pagination tools in their pressroom.

    This is also the paper that hindered and disparaged investigations by our previous City Attorney into city mis and malfeasance whereto a shit load of things.

  • On the subject of “what would Google do?”, I have been following their attempts to get into social media, and, up until this week, thought they would struggle.

    This week they launched “social bar”. It allows a website owner to easily integrate Google Friend Connect into their website, so that users can login using either their Google, Yahoo, AIM or OpenID account, comment and have conversations about content on the site. You can see an example of it working on this site:

    What a great tool for website owners – the ability to easily socialise your site. I can see this spreading fast. As more and more sites take this up, a whole new demographic will start to use a social web profile. I think this move will bring Google into the social game.

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  • Whilst printed newspapers in the West are reaching a point of no return, in the East they are growing in circulation and profit. Will we get to a point where travels to the East will be the only time we read the printed product?

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  • I disagree.