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Hacking networked reality

google_hacks.gifThe Last Whole Earth Catalog, 1971
I think Google Hacks is an important book. It’s important because our lives are increasingly dependent on the Internet and because the fabric of our networked lives – from the web to wi-fi to mobile phones – is getting richer, more meaningful and more tightly woven. Content, applications and communities are more interconnected than ever and a new layer of interconnection is emerging on top of the infrastructure we’ve taken for granted for most of a decade.

As the usefulness and accessibility of the network climbs, its value to us all is necessarily always at risk – from growing complexity, from the opacity produced by proprietary dead ends and from old-fashioned corporate and political short-sightedness. Google Hacks is a tool. It reminds me of The Whole Earth Catalog, a hippy resource book subtitled ‘Access to Tools’ and inspired by the legendary Buckminster Fuller. The Catalog, first published in 1968 (and edited by Stewart Brand), was all about taking control, making interventions – hacking real life. It was stuffed with the most practical of tools, from composting toilets to the early personal computers; from personal aeroplanes in kit form to really useful pen knives you could build a house with. Google Hacks is a tool for hacking the new, networked reality.

The book contains 100 specific, clearly worked examples of ways to take advantage of Google’s openness (the Google API) to achieve concrete results – some projects are useful, some intriguing and some just playful. I’m no techie (You’ll certainly find better technical reviews elsewhere) and most of these hacks are entirely beyond me but the book has loads of insights into the way Google works for non-techies and plenty of low-tech projects I could try for myself.

Since I can’t pretend to be reviewing this book properly and since you’ll be reading about it everywhere, here’s O’Reilly’s press release for some background information (click ‘more…’)

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