To many people Google is the web: the only search engine worth using that they've ever known. And in line with the 'Don't Be Evil' motto, this has tended been a good thing. (You at the back: note the past tense.)
In Google's world, if you have anything to say you can post it on the internet and it will then be found by anyone interested. (Sadly, that's almost certainly just you.) Give that search engine a big gold star for democracy.
But vast as it is, Google is reaching a critical stage in its young life. (It's only in the past year or so that the company has started employing people without being given the express say-so by Larry and Sergey. It's that juvenile a business.)
The big web brands who create the content we search with Google are feeling the pinch. And watching the big G grow fat on advertising cash hurts. For some, the answer is to cut Google out of the equation. Don't allow content to be indexed, set up a paywall and trust that marketing muscle and content will win out. In essence, bin Google.
Unperturbed, Google recently proposed a solution: under its 'Living Stories' plan, all content on big stories will sit on a single URL. This will then be hosted on The New York Times, The Washington Post and, we assume, other massive websites.
At the same time Google is pushing personal and social search, using cookies to ensure that all users imperceptively hone their own results. This also promotes big brands over tiny sites. If you visit a page, it will be ranked higher next time. So you'll be able to find that nice Chinese takeaway again without having to hunt through page after page. But you'll never try anywhere else. As your search results homogonise, you'll visit the same sites. Again and again.
At some stage the web has to rationalise. Content must be paid for, and there is only so much data worth searching for. But a web formed around a decreasing number of big brands? Really? Didn't we ditch the portals?
See also: Web 3.0: the shopping centre web