I'm continually amazed by the power of Google. Professionally, I spend my time as a search engine marketer. That is, I try to optimize website pages so they rank high in search engines like Google and Yahoo for relevant queries. Ranking high in those engines (particularly in Google) means you'll make your site's pages visible to a lot of people, and you'll end up receiving a ton of "free" traffic. Of course, the traffic is not totally free (I take a salary), but it's more free than traditional advertising channels where you pay for impressions or clicks.
The entire question around peak oil is shrouded in fog. State operated oil companies, like Saudi Aramco, do not share production data. That is unfortunate, because in an oil dependent global economy, it would help to plan for the future by knowing exactly how much oil the Saudis (and other net exporters) could produce. As it stands today, we are forced to simply trust Aramco executives when they say they will be able to deliver an increasing capacity to produce crude oil.
Coupled with a very noisy media-driven environment where it is difficult to discern what is true, and you have the potential to sleepwalk towards disaster. Look at what's happening in England. Energy production is crashing, yet the government, via news outlets, is telling people everything will be alright. The signal is definitely getting lost amongst the noise ...
It struck me that Google is very much like the Saudi Arabia of the Internet world. Google is certainly entrenched as the number one search engine (in terms of usage), just as Saudi Arabia is the number one oil exporter. The brand name Google is now so ubiquitous that it occupies the spot in our lexicon heretofore known as "search". Just as the world is dependent upon the oil extracted by Saudi Aramco, so are thousands of Internet companies dependent on traffic originating from Google. (And users are dependent on Google to find what they are looking for, though to a lesser extent.)
Plus, how Google ranks pages is just as shrouded in fog as Saudi Aramco's production stats. Google's algorithm, which determines the rank of web pages for any given query that is passed, is a complex beast that likely incorporates hundreds (if not thousands) of inputs. The algorithm features a lot of moving parts, so it's nearly impossible to discern how it does what it does. Needless to say, Google (like Aramco) does not share key information with dependents - although Google does offer some high-level guidelines. But that's not the best part. The best part is Google can change the influence of any given input at any time, with no forewarning to anyone at all.
In other words, thousands of Internet business models are being constructed on a foundation of ice. Solid one day, but capable of quickly becoming very liquid should factors lead to warmer temps. Can the same be said for the global economy, which plans and grows based partly on the expectation that cheap energy will be available in the future? If we don't really know the state of the foundation (thick ice? thin ice? broken ice?), can we really feel comfortable about our operating model?
Last week, Google effectively stopped sending traffic to my company's website. It was as though Saudi Arabia stopped shipping oil and there was no gasoline at the Mobil (or anywhere else). In the span of a few hours, our foundation went from 20 foot thick icesheet to kiddie pool. Unfortunately, as the world is addicted to oil, so are many companies addicted to Google traffic. As many people know, addicts do not respond favorably to a total loss of product.
Avoiding risk as a general rule means you eliminate the possibility of profiting from the risk taking. That would seem to run contrary to human nature. Managing risk wisely is, however, a pillar of good business practice. Having a degree of control over one's operating environment would seem to be integral to risk management. So why are we so willing to cede control over our operating environment?