My pal Kevin Kelly loves to pull on a string. Here’s him wondering out loud: What’s the value of a Google search, and then, what’s the cost?
And where he goes is great Kelly-esque musings…
I have made a clumsy attempt to estimate the full value of search by using the market cap of the largest search provider. This is unorthodox to say the least. Some folks would say you have to value a service on its revenue or its price on the street. My logic goes like this. What is the value of a car? You can say it is whatever someone will pay for it. But a car is not only valuable to the person driving it. It is valuable to employers to have mobile employees. It is of value to real estate developers to have mobile residents who can drive to your subdivision. There is societal-wide economic value to the product that are not caught by its price tag on the window. (And there are societal-wide costs to automobiles — death and pollution — that are also not captured by the price tag.) I was attempting to use a company’s market value for that service as a surrogate for the value of that service in the marketplace. In some ways, this market cap does incorporate the product’s liabilities, risks, and downsides since those are concerns to investors, if not to its buyers. This number is crude, it’s flawed, it’s not kosher, but in the absence of another I’m using it…
…According to the same ComScore research, people around the world searched the web — using all search engines — some 67 billion times in one month (August 2007). Taking this for a rough monthly average, humans now make 804 billion searches in one year. If each search increases the efficiency and serendipity of our lives by 26 cents worth (assuming Google is a guide and it may not be), then the total yearly worth of web search is $209 billion. That’s not web search investment, that’s the increase in intangible wealth to society yielded by the collective searching of humans in one year.
..Perhaps we will reach the time when we share our thinking with this answer machine, so that “search” becomes synonymous with “think.” Cognitively, “think” is just search for a solution in a high-dimension of variables, so we can consider all thought as a type of search. I have often wondered what we would do with petahertz/petabyte computers. Or exahertz/exabyte computers after them. YouTube won’t max it out. Even with mashing hi-definition 3D virtual reality 24 hours a day, there may be a lot of spare cycles. I think we are going to fill that extra room with thinking-like search. Our 444 billion searches per year will happen in a few seconds.
…I asked Google how many seconds in a year and it instantly told me: 31.5 million. That means that today 14,000 searches are performed on the web every second. Considering the web as its own global machine, search is running at 14 kilohertz. If we could audibly hear each click of the mouse as everyone searched, the resulting sound — vibrating at 14 kilohertz — would be a high pitch hum right at the edge of human hearing. Hear it, hmmmmmm?
Update: Insights from KK and an unnamed Googler in this new post.