The flinty commercial heart that beats in the body of Silicon Valley is an extraordinary thing, pumping ridiculous sums of money though its global extremities in a tireless rhythm. But even more extraordinary is its guileless, amnesiac brain, glorious in its eager, avid forgetfulness.
Twitter cast up Larry Page’s 2013 founder’s letter upon my cognitive beach today. It’s brief, and likable, and hopeful. In many ways, it ignores Google’s now-forgotten tenets of success, and remembers carefully what Google wants to remember most. In Page’s retelling of the late 1990s as filtered through a citation of the 2004 letter, the firm was founded “to develop services that significantly improve the lives of as many people as possible.” (In my recollection, it was a search engine — and a really, really good one, in a time that lacked them.)
In Jim Edwards’ reading of the letter, a particularly important point is that Google is proud of its spare design. I remember when Yahoo would have said the same, and when adding links to Yahoo’s “front page” was itself news. And Page muses on the importance of longer, more cognitively rich queries. I remember when Google trumpeted that the average query length on the Web was falling, falling, falling, and search engines needed to get with it or get out.
But being callow is one of the things that makes Silicon Valley what it is. You don’t get to say “callow” often enough, and especially not without the word “youth” after it — and Page is showing some gray. There’s a determined disinclination to remember in the Valley, which means Yahoo’s early front page is gone from the collective memory. (Hey, I remember when it went to two columns. I WAS THERE.)
It also means that Google doesn’t remember a time when it thought shorter queries were better. (Before…say…Siri.) And it probably shouldn’t, because too much reflection leads to introspection, and introspection means you stop to think too much about some pretty amazing leaps from one rooftop to the next. You don’t make iPads if you remember Newtons; you don’t make Googles if you remember AltaVistas.
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