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Gotta Keep Searching, Searching, Searching

How many Web pages do you think there are on the internet? Well, it turns out there are more Web pages than there are things in the world. And author Joe Queenan is expecting 600,000 trillion Web pages to exist by 2020. If you’re not involved in some way with a search engine, well, you’re on the outside.

Keep Searching

According to a shocking Google statistic cited in The New York Times, there are now more than one trillion Web pages on the Internet. The actual number may be more like one trillion three hundred and six; these figures tend to have a bit of give in them, and by the time you read this, there will be 45 million more. Rich Skrenta, who runs a search engine firm that competes with Google, told the Times that there are now more Web pages than there are things in the world. This is why he has co-founded blekko, which seeks to bring some order and logic to the whole search engine process.

As far as I can tell, this will be accomplished by directing searches to Web pages that actually contain useful information, and not to more Web pages designed with no other purpose than to increase search engine traffic. Just for the record, there are now 112 useful pages on the Internet, “useful” meaning Web pages that are not hoaxes or scams or Eastern-bloc porn or conspiracy theory blogs run by out-and-out morons. But you can only get to 112 if you include Moviefone and si.com, which is right on the edge there. Also just for the record, there are 1.67 billion things in the world, including 100,000 Lady Gaga changes of costumes and 3,456 excuses why Derek Jeter can’t hit anymore. Yes, excuses are things.

With Google, Bing, AltaVista, Lycos, AskJeeves, Cuil, Yahoo, Kosmix, SearchMe and WikiSearch already in existence, some people might ask why the world would possibly need yet another search engine. The answer: you can never have too many search engines, too many people designing search engines, too many people working for companies that design search engines or too many people designing Web pages so that search engines will have new stuff to search for. Search engine companies will drive economic growth in this country for the next two decades. At the present moment, 1.6 million Americans are employed by companies that design new Web pages for search engines to visit. But by the year 2020, when 600,000 trillion Web pages exist, a full 25 million Americans will be employed in the manufacture of Web pages that can be searched for, or in the design of new search engines that make it easier to sift through 600,000 trillion Web pages in order to find out when the next bus to Schenectady is leaving Buffalo and which of his six wives Henry VIII did not have executed.

Search engine companies will drive economic growth in this country for the next two decades.

I personally know 25 people who work in the Internet search industry. My brother-in-law designs search engine software that searches for other people who design search engine software so they can get together and have a beer or something. My cousin Frances operates a search engine designed for illiterates called Hoo-Dat? Two of my nephews work for a British firm that delivers servers to companies whose search engines have been overwhelmed with searches, and two of my neighbors work as lawyers defending search engine companies against lawsuits from unscrupulous search engine companies that claim that their search engine uses a proprietary technology that the accused search firm ripped off.

Another neighbor bakes cupcakes for weekly parties held by a small Yonkers-based search engine company—Portal of Yonk—that will only search for things that can be found in Yonkers, like her Yonkers-based cupcake company. Various other friends design graphics for search engine companies, or do the books for search engine companies, or invent new things that search engines can search for. A few weeks ago I went to a party where my wife and I were the only guests who did not work for search engine companies. We only received the invitation because a search engine found our name and confused us with another Queenan family that designs portals. It was a very nice party and I tried to make as much small talk about search engines as I could, but after the host discovered my non-search-engine background, what are the odds that we will be invited back?

Search me.

About Joe Queenan

Joe Queenan is a regular contributor on business issues, corporate culture, and financial follies to Barron's and The Wall Street Journal.