How did we manage before Google?

I’ve been working on a new programming project that’s new in every way. It’s a new project, it involves new API’s, new platforms, new paradigms, new things to explore… just about everything with this project is new.

When I get stuck and wonder how to get something done, first I turn to documentation. The docs are useful but generally are straight API docs. I need more conceptual docs, I need more HOWTO docs. So I look for sample code, and while some code is linked to from the docs, it many times hasn’t been enough to satisfy my question. So I do what has become natural in this day and age: turn to Google. Within a few keystrokes and clicks, I tend to find what I’ve been looking for. I can implement a solution in my code, get back to work and get on with things. Progress is quite rapid, all things considered.

What did we used to do?

I recall having to walk down the hallway to talk to other engineers at the company and ask for their help. Working from home for the day job and then having my own side gig, I just don’t have that luxury any more. Oh sure there are people I can turn to when I need it via IM or email or phone, but the world is growing so diverse in languages, technologies, platforms, APIs, and then the depth of what’s within those areas that often I ask someone a question and their response is “never used that before… never did that before… I don’t know”. 😦   While that isn’t solely a problem of today, in the old days we’d then turn to things like Usenet newsgroups or ad-hoc mailing lists; today we’d use web forums and official mailing lists But no matter whether we walked down the hallway or posted online, those all took one thing: time. If you walked down the hall you had to keep asking until you found someone who had a clue about the problem set, then you’d talk at great length, you’d get sidetracked, and eventually get back to your desk and work. If you posted online, you had to wait for a response with netiquette saying you should give it at least a day or two for people to respond. That sort of lag time isn’t always acceptable.

Now with so much content being online and Google’s amazing search capabilities, it takes almost no time. Chances are your problem isn’t unique, thus someone has asked about it before. And if you’re lucky, someone has responded with a useful solution… and Google was there to index it. Just craft your search string well and hopefully you’ll dig up what you need and be back on track within a few minutes of typing, clicking, and reading. The only thing we need is for people to keep their data online: websites can’t go away, blogs can’t close up, else that knowledge and information goes with it.

I’m quite impressed with how much I’ve gotten done this past week. With everything so new and having to wrap my head around so many things it’d normally take me a few weeks to get done what I’ve accomplished this week. The immediacy of the giant collaborative network that is The Internet is becoming a more awesome thing and powerful tool each day.

3 thoughts on “How did we manage before Google?

  1. Interesting post. You’re right on Go Go Gadget Google Fu!

    Remember having to dive into the many tomes of Inside Macintosh. Then we were all filled with glee when we discovered Think Reference!

    The technology has expanded so much from the old days, and there was a lot then. In many ways we’ve developed an ant-like way of conquering the forest.

    • I recycled most of my Inside Mac books maybe a year ago. Yeah, nostalgia wanted me to keep them, but I just don’t have the storage space for it. They’re pretty much irrelevant these days so well… they had to go. *sigh*

      And THINK Reference. Man, that tool was awesome.

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