This week, the tech world settled in for yet another installment of Google I/O. In all of techdom, there’s nothing like it. We all wait on pins and needles to find out what glorious things Google has been working on for the past year, and what amazing things they will release into the wild as a result.
It’s like Christmas morning for geeks.
More often than not, we’re not disappointed. This time around, we saw a fantastic Google+ redesign, an equally impressive redesign of Google Maps, an impressive music streaming service, a long-time-coming unified messaging service, and much more.
It’s enough to make you giddy.
Now, I’m as enamored of Google’s services as the next guy. I’m a Gmail, Docs, Voice, Chrome, Android, and (former) Reader user. I’m deeply embedded into the Google ecosystem. I was ecstatic about the introduction of Chrome and Android precisely because they married my apps and my platform so elegantly.
Lately, though, I’ve been rethinking my relationship with Google. I’m not going soft on them, mind you- I’m as fervent a believer as ever in the power of Google to make things better. Their mission to organize the world’s data is quite in-line with my desire to have all the world’s information at my fingertips.
Even I, however, am getting a bit apprehensive about the sheer pervasiveness of the search giant.
When Gmail was introduced, it was (and is) leaps and bounds ahead of any other email service. Same goes for Docs/ Drive. And Maps. And Voice. And Reader (and, of course, Search). The list goes on. These services left little option, really. If you wanted the best, you wanted Google.
Because of this dominance, privacy advocates started to worry. They have so much data on us. I didn’t bite. Sure they do- so what? All it really means is that I might see an ad for Cleveland Browns tickets and a smartphone instead of fiber pills and Maxi pads. I’m more than okay with that; I embrace it.
Things have changed a bit. Now, Google is not satisfied with making the best services - or, rather, that’s not all they’re concerned with. Now, they want to control the entire experience.
Pull your Google phone from your pocket, or fire up your Google-powered Chrome OS laptop, open your Google browser, log into your Google mail, your Google office, your Google calendar. Search for things through Google. Store your things on Google. Buy your things from Google.
You could, theoretically, make comprehensive and thorough use of the web for weeks on end without having used anything but Google products.
That worries me.
It worries me because no one company should know me quite that well, but it also worries me because of the implications for the technology sphere in general.
Gmail comes along and blows Hotmail out of the water. Fine. Calendar offers a vastly superior product. Okay. Search, Voice, and all the rest- if you’re the best, so be it.
What if you’re not the best, though? Google Play Music’s “All Access” came along yesterday to compete with the likes of Spotify and Rdio. Google+, while not necesssarily a social network still occupies the same space as Facebook and even competes with Twitter, or Path, or Tumblr. Google Drive directly competes with Dropbox. Google Keep competes with Evernote.
The similarities here are this: all of the companies Google is going after with similar, and not necessarily superior, products do only one thing. Rdio does music. Dropbox does file sync. Facebook and Twitter only do social, and Evernnote does notes.
These things are the identity of their respective companies. It’s what they do. That means something. I will give you my money, Rdio, because you do music, and only music. Dropbox, you do files better than anyone around; therefore, I am a loyal customer. Even Facebook, which, historically, I loathe, retains its place in my habits precisely because social is all they do.
Do one thing, and do it well. There’s a hand-crafted feel to that approach.
When Google comes along and occupies a space no one has yet occupied (Google Glass), or makes a superior product (Search, Gmail), we owe it to ourselves to utilize those products. When they occupy a space that already contains a champion, and make a merely comparable product, we, as users of the web, are better served to stick with the champ.
For one thing, there are actual people behind these companies. Dropbox and Rdio, to keep with those examples, started with a simple dream, a simple purpose. They made great things, and people noticed. If we all switched to a competing Google product as soon as they decide to throw their hat in the ring, what becomes of the existing services? More importantly, what becomes of future services? Imagine that, five years from now, Google is so successful with its music and storage offerings that no one else dares to enter that space, or any space, for that matter, for fear that, once the product becomes successful enough, Google will simply build a competitor and crush it.
Google is still the most exciting company in tech, perhaps in any field, to watch. They build amazing things, and when they do things right, they deserve to be rewarded with users. When they infringe on someone else’s territory with a lukewarm offering, it’s up to us to send them back to the drawing board.