In the past several years, Google has become more evil. Despite its goal of purity and widely-heralded philosophy at its founding, it has become just another corporation trying to make a buck. While it employs some of the best and brightest engineering talent, it has taken over the Internet in ways that even a monopolist such as Microsoft can only admire from the sidelines. What happened? It was a gradual evolution and just being better than its competitors, but also being such a big presence in so many places around the Internet too.
Let me count the Googles in my own life. First and foremost is email: Gmail is probably the best webmailer that I have ever used, and I have used many of them. I use Google to host all of my email now from my various domains. I first started using their email service because it was free, but it still offers better features than most for-fee services. Their group emailing list services still is substandard, something that Yahoo does much better after all these years (Yahoo bought eGroups long ago, one of my favorite services).
Then there is search. All my searching is done on Google, too. I have tried Bing and while it has some appealing features, I keep coming back to Google. Yahoo? Oh yeah, there is Yahoo too.
How about video streaming? Certainly the go-to place for that is You Tube. I have used them as one of my many places where I put my own videos online, and have noticed that as You Tube has become part of the Googleplex it has gotten harder to use and lags behind features of some of the smaller video streaming service providers.
SaaS-based storage? While Google Docs is not as good as many, it does work to share documents and other stuff online. They bought Etherpad and have tried to incorporate the real-time editing service, but it has been a botched effort to date.
Maps? Got that covered. I particularly like the walking/biking directions. The mobile maps could use some work, which is one of the reasons why Apple is moving to their own app for their iThings. And let’s not even go into the whole sad saga of how they collected this mapping data and recording the open Wifi hotspots along the way, or the scary future of what they intend to do with their 3D plans, outlined here.
Social networking? There is Google+. (And Orkut, if you live in Brazil. And Wave and Buzz, which thankfully never took hold.) I know folks who love it and use it and profit from it greatly. I am not one of them. Facebook and LinkedIn are fine by me and enough work to keep up with them.
Photos? Google bought Picasa and has been dismantling it over time, making their offering less compelling for sharing photos online and wanting folks to use Google+ for this purpose.
Phones? Android is now the dominant smartphone player in the world.
Browsers? There is Chrome. I still try to resist, using the other ones.
Are you sensing a trend? Google isn’t as good at incorporating a small development group into the ‘Plex. Their offerings often lag behind the competition, even when the small dev groups are ahead of the market. As James Whittaker, one former Googler has said:
“The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate. The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus.”
Google now competes in so many places that many of my colleagues are moving to de-Google their online lives. And they are finding that the effort is considerable. Mainly because Google is like the Borg: it wants to assimilate your online life.
It does this through the Google Account. Take a look for a moment at accounts.google.com. You can see an impressive amount of information about your online activities, if you allow Google to do so. If I choose to, all of my social media posts of Twitter are tied to my account. All of my searches are saved in their archives, if I turn that option on. And the number of options of what to reveal to the world and what not are as complex and ever changing as the equivalent Facebook choices.
There are options presented as a way to “improve my search experience” and accuracy, and I am sure that they do. Trouble is, I have no idea if they are also adding to the things that Google can track about my online life. My guess is that they do, which totally creeps me out.
Where do we go from here? I don’t honestly know. I am not prepared to entirely de-Google my life yet, although I do keep in mind some of the alternatives and watch what they are doing. I do think Google has gotten more evil over time, and is seeing some of their best and brightest engineering talent leave for other places as their own frustrations increase. It is too bad, because we all had such high hopes for them.