It's time to stop calling Google an Internet search company--recent moves make it clear that its ambitions extend well beyond indexing and organizing billions of Web pages.
The information powerhouse is scanning libraries of books into a giant database and tagging reams of digitized video clips for easy recall. It can crawl your whole PC hard drive with a desktop search tool. It owns satellite photography warehouse Keyhole.
The world, not the Net, is its real quarry, although it will have to shoehorn much of the world into digital form before it can work its magic.
That promises to be a costly and mind-bogglingly dull job for those on the organizing end of things. For a classic parody of the task see Bouvard et Pecuchet, Gustave Flaubert's tale of two eccentrics and their ambitions to catalog the whole world and everything in it. (Leave it to the French to critique Google 150 years in advance. Incroyable!)
Fortunately for us, Google seems happy to oblige. This week, it added direct results for real-time stock quotes and a new maps feature called "ride finder" listing phone numbers for transportation services in various U.S. cities. Some previous additions include movie times and dictionary definitions.
Google has some tough competition. In one of the more Herculean efforts at global digitization, Amazon's A9 has been busy photographing each building on hundreds of city streets so people can wander through Paris or wherever from their computer screen. Organizing the world, indeed.