Nicholas Carr: Google Rewiring the World

Nicholas Carr.jpg Declaring “we’re at a major turning point in the history of computing,” author Nicholas Carr today said major change is underway with ramifications for business, commerce, marketing, media, and the society.

Carr, author of “The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google,” likens the change in running computer systems to electricity generation.

In the second half of the 19th century, factory owners had to build and operate their own power generation facilities. Then, between 1910 and 1930, electricity generation shifted from manufacturers to centralized utility companies, which distributed power at lower cost thanks to economies of scale. With that change came an “explosion of innovation at the socket,” said Carr, speaking at SES New York.

Computing, he said, is moving to a similar model as electricity. It’s becoming available for less money — a trend that too, will result in technological innovations that will affect businesses and consumers alike. And Google, which is building data centers and offering applications online, is one of the companies leading the new computing approach.

Consider these trends: software as media (e.g., Google) and media taking on characteristics of technology companies (e.g., NBC’s entertainment “portal”).

Plus, innovation is coming from companies with far smaller staffs than their traditional counterparts. When eBay purchased Skype, the Internet telephony service had only 200 employees and served the same number of customers as BT, the British telecom service, which employed 100,000. Likewise, Craigslist publishes an online classified ad network with only 20 employees, a fraction of the number of people selling ads in newspapers and other publications.

“Whenever you have technological and economic change of this magnitude, it’s difficult to predict” what will happen, he warned.

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