From the platforms that Google, Yahoo and others already have built, we see the outlines of an entirely new digital environment. We already have e-mail with unlimited storage, for example. And maps that include razor-sharp satellite imagery, driving directions and local information all mashed together. Instant messaging with built-in voice telephony, desktop tools that search your desktop and your history of what you've searched for, social networking, news reports, blogging -- you name it, and search companies are now offering it.

Soon, we may see even more search-driven services, for free: free classifieds, free wireless connectivity, and free word processing and office productivity software. (No wonder Microsoft is worried.)

But consider the concentration of information about us that resides with the search companies, or that's accessible using their tools. It goes beyond the database of intentions we create when we click around the Web. Because we are increasingly moving our digital lives from the constraints of the PC to the relatively boundless Web, we also are creating virtual profiles of ourselves. Hundreds of millions of us store our e-mail, photographs, social networks, contact databases and personal journals on the Web, and we are adding to that pile at an extraordinary rate.

Put together the bread crumbs we leave as we navigate the Web with the mountain of personal information we've posted there, and add to that the e-mails we send and receive, and you have an enormous storehouse of data available to the search companies.

Get the full story at the The Mercury News (free registration required)