Saturday, January 20, 2007

I, For One, Welcome Our New Google Overlords

Came across this rather fascinating write-up on Google yesterday. It's long, full of speculation and discusses technology, but it's well written and the author certainly knows of what he types. His basic premise - which my summary won't do justice - is that Google, to the degree that it can and still be legal (which is quite a degree) is trying to control the Internet.

No, I don't mean control as in "big brother" where they essentially have free reign over all web pages everywhere, allowing them to censor, promote, and flat out rule with an iron fist (although that's always a potential drawback, I suppose.) Rather, although they'll always be one of any number of options for customers, their presence is/will be everywhere... which, come to think of it is exactly what we have now. This author's educated speculation takes it a step further, however.

Without poorly summarizing the entire article here, he offers forth the idea that Google is planning on taking over cable television and telephone services, and in doing so will position themselves to offer services in all areas that we might use the Internet for. They already control more network fiber (the wire which Internet signal runs over) than any other organization, yet they continue to acquire more. They have huge data centers (the computing brains of any organization that uses technology and the place where most of their servers are kept) in various places all over the country and are building still more larger ones. They have gone from a basic search engine to an entity that offers information goods and services too numerous to count. Basically, they've been growing at a ridiculous pace and show no signs of stopping.

Should we be worried? In some sense, yes, there's absolutely reason for concern. Monopolies suck, and while theoretically there are safeguards in place to prevent their existence, one could very much make the argument that those safeguards have failed. It seems that there are fewer choices out there for consumers than there have ever been. Everything, everywhere, has become so homogeneous. While hanging out with my family over the holidays I asked them (specifically my parents) if they could ever remember a time when there were so many of these "superstore" type place like Best Buy and Wal*Mart? Or, was I just more sensitive to this fact because I've lived in Jamaica Plain for the past four years (perhaps the most liberal section of Boston (and that's saying something) where the residents are never without something to protest - huge corporate conglomerations being a favorite target) and was therefore overly cynical and with cloudy judgment? No, they agreed. Never while they were growing up was there such a sense of staleness. Culture everywhere has lost a lot of its flavor. Sure, places you go on vacation might have all the comforts of home... but that's because they're exactly like home.

But here's the thing with Google. If, in fact, they're taking over the Internet, they're doing a good job with it. They take services that we all use, successfully simplify them in a manner that only they can, and actually use common sense to improve the product. I can't deny that I've become a convert. We all know about their search capabilities, which are second to none. However, I now use their Gmail service almost exclusively because it offers huge storage, is incredibly intuitive and easy to use, and has the best spam filters of any web based email I've ever seen (they literally catch 99.9% of the spam I get - which is significant - and never have I had a legitimate email mistakenly end up in my spam folder.) Their maps service is not only easy, it's ridiculously accurate (at least with driving directions - something Mapquest can certainly not claim.) Hell, even the service I use to publish this blog, Blogger, is run by them (although, to be fair, someone else created it first and Google simply bought it. They have since improved it tremendously, however, and made it such that anyone can start a blog if they want to, yet they also allow enough flexibility that the technically savvy can do what they like with it.) So yeah, I've swallowed the Kool-Aid - every last drop of it, in fact. I thought it tasted real good though and, last I checked, I'm still alive.

Look, I'm not saying they should be the only options out there. Competition needs to exist. But, competition existed before they came along too, and no one was offering a superior product. A lot of Google's success seems to come from innovation and attraction, as opposed to acquisition and forced use due to lack of other legitimate options, which is why I like them. And, although I think their recent maneuvers (which the article explains far better than I could) should definitely raise some red flags, I'm also willing to give them the benefit of the doubt - for now. Unlike others, I trust them not to screw it up.

(Note: I SWEAR I do not work for Google. I'd certainly like to - by all accounts they're a fantastic place to work - but no, I'm not an employee. No, I didn't receive any payoffs either.


Hey, stop it, you cynical bastard! You're the one who asked for a blog post!! Well, this is what you get! I'll make no apologies for my starry-eyed Google adoration... so, shoo.)

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Blogger Jesse Anna Bornemann said...

You *almost* convinced me to switch to gmail. Good work.

5:56 PM  

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