A Billion-Dollar IPO for Johns Hopkins
Not long ago, I read an article about the impact of
Moore's Law — named for Gordon Moore, the founder of
Intel — that predicts the doubling of computing
capacity every 18 months or so. For many of us, the focus
on this progression has been on computing power and the
manufacturers' ability to give us machines that are ever
smaller, faster and more robust. But another important
byproduct of Moore's Law has been the increase in
information storage capacity in a similar geometric
progression. Imagine in just a few short years — as
predicted in this article — that you will be able to
store on your iPod all the information contained in a
repository as big as the
Libraries. By 2015 or so, you will be able to have all
the books in the Library of Congress stored on your
"Wow! That's amazing!" I said. But wait a minute. Just
because I can have War and Peace, The Mendelian
Inheritance in Man and The Farmer's Almanac on
my PDA doesn't mean I can effectively access all that
information. That's why search engines, as primitive as
they might seem, are so valuable — they are currently
the only way for computer users to find and validate
information in mammoth files measured in gigabytes,
terabytes or even petabytes. (And what is a petabyte,
anyway? Is it the reason we give our dogs rabies shots?)
One cannot observe the recent highly successful
multibillion-dollar initial public offering for Google, a
company created by a couple of Stanford graduate students,
and not recognize the importance of search engine
technologies in the new frontier of virtually limitless
computing storage capacity.
And I also couldn't help but wonder, as I read this
article, why we at Johns Hopkins couldn't do the same
thing. Surely among all our talented students and faculty
there must be the seed of an idea that could command an
equally high premium in the commercial world. Rather than
wait for something like this to happen spontaneously, I
could charge our
Office of Technology Licensing to be proactive and see
if it could create a company that Hopkins could take public
— and increase our endowment by more than a billion
dollars. Think of all the wonderful programs and
scholarships we could create with such a success!
Then the light went on! Full of Google-envy, I
suddenly realized that we already have the ultimate
information search engine right here at Johns Hopkins. It's
one that is readily accessible and highly trusted. And it
can be used to locate important references from credible
sources, without getting a lot of extraneous garbage. Just
think of what this Hopkins search engine would command on
the NASDAQ market.
Therefore, any day now, two prominent New York
investment banks will announce the initial public offering
for JHUSL.com, the newest and most powerful search engine
yet — better than Google, Yahoo, MSN and AskJeeves by
a long shot. Already traders have lined up across the world
to purchase shares. Why this excitement? It's all in the
discernment. What is so great about JHUSL.com is that when
you perform a search, say on "16th-century weapons of mass
destruction," you will get only one or two dozen references
— the ones that are really meaningful and helpful
— rather than the 50,700 that came up in the Google
search I tried.
What is this great technology, you ask? Well, JHUSL
stands for the Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Libraries.
You see, our library has the most effective search engines
yet invented — librarians who are highly skilled at
ferreting out the uniquely useful references that you need.
Rather than commercializing the library collections, why
not export to the public market the most meaningful core of
Hopkins' intellectual property — the ability to turn
raw information into useful knowledge.
I hope by now you realize that any talk of taking our
library public is simply to emphasize the point missing in
all this Google mania: Massive information overload is
placing librarians in an ever more important role as human
search engines. They are trained and gifted at ferreting
out and vetting the key resource material when you need it.
Today's technology is spectacular — but it can't
always trump a skilled human.
Have you hugged your librarian today?
William R. Brody is president
of The Johns Hopkins University.