How can Google grow?

Google is supposed to be going public soon at some sort of fantastically high valuation.  A friend asked “How can they possibly grow into that?  What can they do besides search?”

If Google is to reach and sustain a Microsoft-style valuation perhaps the best way for them to do this is by providing alternatives to what Microsoft provides.  Microsoft is the kind of desktop applications.  You buy software from a store and install it on your machine.  If a new version comes out you figure out how to buy and install an upgrade.  If you get a new computer you spend several days reinstalling all of your applications, probably buying new copies of the ones whose installation CD-ROMs you can’t find anymore.  If you’re traveling and need to edit a document or spreadsheet, tough luck.  All of your data is trapped on your home or office computer.

In the Internet enthusiasm of the 1990s various people predicted that desktop applications would be replaced by Web-based applications  For most users this has come true in the case of email.  If you’re a Hotmail or Google Mail user you can read email from any Internet-connected computer in the world.  There are a fair number of Internet-based photo sharing and database services.  What is then left on one’s PC?  Word processing, spreadsheet, and PowerPoint documents.  If Google were to offer a private database service and a suite of reasonably powerful application programs usable from a Web browser, this might be a serious competitor to Microsoft Office.

So that’s my prediction:  while Microsoft is trying to replace Google with MSN Search, Google will be trying to replace Microsoft Office with Google Web-based Office.

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Do home-schooled kids have better manners?

On Sunday I attended a block party hosted by a friend up in Newburyport.  He had hired an English circus family to perform and afterwards I served some food and drink to the 13-year-old and 16-year-old members of this family.  Unlike the typical sullen American teenager they had exquisite manners.  It turned out that they had never been to school.  They’d lived their whole lives traveling around with their parents and siblings, oftentimes in a smallish RV (they started calling themselves “the Sardine Family” because of these cramped quarters).  All of their education came from their parents and from older siblings.

Could it be that going into a community of thousands of teenagers (i.e., school) is bad for a kid’s manners?   And that spending time with a high percentage of adults (i.e., home school) is good for a kid’s manners?

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High percentage of children living in poverty is good or bad?

While driving up here to Naples, Maine for some seaplane training I listened to a lecture on political theory by Dennis Dalton, a professor at Barnard.  One interesting point was that Aristotle did not approve of voting except by middle-class or richer people.  His theory was that a poor person is likely to be illiterate and that, without having much property, won’t have any stake in stability.  Thus if Aristotle were remaking Iraq only perhaps 10 percent of the population would be entitled to vote.  In the U.S. maybe 80 percent of us would get to vote (though of course only 40-some percent bother).

Dalton talked about how the U.S. illustrates all of the ills of Capitalism predicted by Karl Marx.  In particular Dalton cited the percentage of children living in poverty here in the U.S. (“living in poverty” means in a family whose income is less than the Federal Poverty Level, a number determined by trying to figure out what the minimum necessary income is for a normal American life).

If the quantity of children in the U.S. were fixed it seems obvious that the higher the percentage of kids living in poverty the worse the situation.  But the quantity of children is not fixed.  People decide to have an extra child based on their perception of how easy it will be to take care of an extra child.  Perhaps a high percentage of children living in poverty means that poor people feel comfortable with (a) the  level of government support to be expected for that child (e.g., Medicaid, AFDC), and (b) the ultimate career prospects for that child once grown up.

What would stop a Reagan-style optimist from saying “look at all the children that our poor people are having, confident that their future will be bright” and citing that as an example of what a fantastic country this is for a poor family?

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