Google IO

My main impression of Google IO was not so much any specific announcement as the overwhelming sense of ambition and self-confidence. This was very reminiscent of Microsoft 20 years ago, at the height of its pomp (and of course just before it all started to go wrong). Just as Microsoft cross-leveraged Windows and Office, and then Internet Explorer, Google is cross-leveraging search, Gmail, Maps, Android and everything else, tying them together with Plus.

The objective is to index not just the web but the users - to drive better understanding of the data by knowing how and where people use it. This is the point of Google Plus - it's not a social network, but a unified Google identity to tie all of your search and indeed internet use together in a Google database just like Pagerank.  

This is coupled with a steady move away from standards, just a little like the old Microsoft 'embrace and extend' (and of course 'extinguish'). There's a long list of Google projects that started out based on open standards and slowly turned into closed proprietary products. This is often from perfectly sound technical reasons, but it does make me wonder if Google will ever, out of a desire to innovate and make the product better, deprecate IMAP access to Gmail, for example. And of course Google, like Microsoft, would be totally confident this was the right thing for users. 

At times this self-confidence can be somewhat comical. Larry Page appeared to claim that any laws over 50 years old shouldn't apply to internet companies, for example. And attacking Microsoft for not being interoperable enough in instant messaging would have been more convincing if Google had not, 30 minutes earlier, announced a new IM product that abandons interoperability standards. This lack of self-awareness - criticising other companies for things Google does too - risks putting people's backs up, but on the other hand 20 years of geek hatred of Microsoft didn't do it any harm. 

I also had a powerful sense of the absurdity of piecemeal attempts to attack parts of the Google franchise head-on. You need a powerful franchise of your own on which to build an alternative vision. After all, parts of Google's actual execution can be pretty patchy, and Apple, Facebook and Amazon have strengths of their own (as well as weaknesses). I'm also unconvinced that Google can win against some category-killers, such as in messaging (Microsoft never had much impact on Quicken despite years of efforts, for example). But coming from outside with a me-too product is a complete waste of time.

Coincidentally, Lotus 1-2-3 was finally shut down this week.