Let's get this straight right up front. I am a big fan of Google. I was using their search engine and telling people about it back in the early days before most folks even knew about them. I like things that work, and Google's technology works better than most. But, I now fear Google is about to become Microsoft in more ways than one.
While we are on the topic of full disclosure, let me say that I also respect Microsoft (and the crowd grows silent). Before you get nasty towards me, let me explain. Bill and his band of merry programmers have dramatically changed the computing world we live in for the better. They homogenized computing. I know that sounds just blasphemous, but it has done wonders for the world. 95% of us now operate on the same platform and can share files and information quite easily. Most of us would not have adopted personal computing back in the 90's if it were not for Windows and the abundance of software. Their "open" platform allowed for an amazing explosion of software that allows us to do almost anything on a computer.
So, I pose a two part question. First, when does Google become Microsoft? Second, when does Google start to be attacked like Microsoft? For those of you saying "Dude, Google is nothing like Microsoft"....think again. They are Microsoft Part 2 in the making. If you think you know Google, think again. I bet you are not aware of 75% of the things they offer, and about 95% of what they are working on.
I posed this very question to a good friend of mine in the IT business. His reply was, "But Google gives everything up for free - so why would people hate them?" With all due respect to my ridiculously smart friend (and he is wicked smart folks), he missed the point. This has nothing to do with revenue models. It has EVERYTHING to do with CONTROL. Most humans like an element of standardization. But when standardization starts to look like domination, they get uncomfortable. Domination means that the company can impose its will. Domination means that the company often becomes sloppy and loses sight of true innovation. Domination means the company usually stops listening to its customers.
The sad part is, even the zealots who praise the fringe eventually create the monsters they love to hate. Case in point, the IPOD. Heard the rumblings lately? They are getting loud. The avante guard have realized they are part of the masses now. IPOD is mainstream. Bloggers are posting their frustrations with the 7.0 software release of Quicktime. Net, it is buggy and not up to Apple's standards. I know, I downloaded it - and it stinks. It skips in playback when you work on any other program simultaneously - which defeats the purpose of having music play in the background while you work. I had to find the fix on my own, and thankfully Juha Saarinen's blog (The Techsploder) saved me from tossing my computer across the room. The engine of cool at Apple is falling victim to the perils of becoming big too. Success is not all giggles.
So, back to Google. Are they as dominant as Microsoft? Not yet. But, are you aware of the total Google sphere of influence? I bet not. Let me introduce you to some of the things Google does that are much more advanced than your average search engine:
- Documents and Spreadsheets - Create and share your projects online and access them from anywhere
- Picasa - Find, edit and share your photos
- Gmail - Fast, searchable email with less spam
- Talk - IM and call your friends through your computer
- Calendar - Organize your schedule and share events with friends
- Blogger - Share your life online with a blog
- Maps for Mobile - View maps and get directions on your phone
- Earth - Zoom from space to street level
- Desktop - Find all your email, files, web history and more
- Video - Play videos purchased and downloaded through the Google Video website
These are just a few of the gadgets they have pushed out of Google Labs. Some of them smell and look like Microsoft (spreadsheets anyone?). Ask yourself, how many gmail accounts have you seen come across your inbox lately (hello Microsoft Outlook). But, this also does not cover some of the big new ventures they have recently embarked upon. Unless you were dead to the world, you could not miss their purchase of YouTube for a paltry $1.6 BB the other day. You may think this is just another content play for their site, but think again.
The Washington Post featured a story this week about Google opening a major office in the Port Authority building covering 1 1/2 floors on an entire Manhattan block in Chelsea. Their goal - get in deep with Madison Avenue advertising agencies. As we watch the death of the 30 second commercial on broadcast TV (and the advertising model that supports it), we see the birth of a new 30 second commercial medium online (and the new advertising model that will support it). Google aims to apply its complex search technology to serve up a new advertising model. Hmm. YouTube, advertising, media.....Duh!
But there are other signs too. Google executives are starting to depart and snag top jobs elsewhere. They are sought after like a VC firm with an open wallet. Everywhere you turn an ex-Googler pops up like a top search result. Wammo. Instant credibility. It reminds me of IBM execs in the 80's and Microsoft and Dell execs from the late 90's. It's like Beatle-mania!
You can call it Web 2.0, but the reality is your computing life will be more and more dependent on the web - and thus Google. You won't store all your files on your hard drive - that is messy and cumbersome. You will just store them on your rented space of the new Googleplex. Imagine it to be like that portable and moving storage company that drops off those wooden PODS in front of your house. You give it to them and they store it away for future access. But then take it one step further. You determine what files are private (your personal tax files, business records, etc.) and which are shared and public (music, pictures, articles you wrote, etc). Your life will be the Googleplex, and the Googleplex will be your life.
So, when does Google go from Silicon Valley phenomenon to the next hated company that hackers try to bring down? When does the next crop of sixteen year old misguided geniuses bring down the Googleplex over a six-pack of sodas and cold pizza at 2 AM? When does the world turn and look for the next Google to save them from the evil empire of Google? Will this even ever happen? Who knows, but it will be darn fun to watch...and in the meantime I bet Google will create oodles of technological advances that will make my life even better in the meantime. Homogenization of the web baby. Gotta love it.