Monday, November 27, 2006

Google stuff

Google Docs and Spreadsheets--Easy-to-use and useful especially if you want to work on the same documents from different computers (work and home, say), so long as you can access the internet from each. A company called Upstartle created the word-processing program formerly called Writely, a name now associated with its warmer, more intuitive layout. Google acquired Upstartle in early 2006 and recently integrated the program, coolly minimalistic layout scheme and all, into its increasingly vast suite of products.
How does a company that built its brand on simplicity of interface manage a growing and disparate constellation of brands? To segment or integrate? Pragmatisim and the acquisition of YouTube, as it stands untouched, suggest the former, but integration is the Google holy grail--quick access to all the world's information--so I think we can expect a hubristic pursuit of the latter.
The civil libertarian in me prefers segmentation, but the information hungry techno-utopian in me prefers integration (hook it up to my veins!). But as Mike points out, Google could reconcile these opposing impulses, or at least mitigate their exccesses, if: they "create a digital privacy tool for all its users that would let them view, delete and set expiration dates for all data that's collected about them." I love it. Such a digital privacy tool would allow the civil libertarians to scale back without abandoning Google for the mailman and library catalog, and the techno-utopians, meanwhile, could go hog wild and force feed Google personal information to help optimize their web experience.
Be sure to read Mike's whole post.

Addendum: Examples of Google integration abound; for instance, I just came across this one: Okrut & Google Talk.

7 comments:

Michael said...

Canny, sir, canny. Though I think your indulgence would have been more disarming if the rest of my post consisted of anything but broken promises.

Rob said...

Google is the Target of the internet. Too few are suspicious of its business practices beacuse the perceived benefit(s) of the products and services outweigh any moral cost. I sit on the fence: I use gmail and blogger, but insist that I pay for the hosting of the blog myself (odd, since Google also keeps the whole blog locked in its servers regardless of whether it's hosted on blogspot or not).

The costs and benefits of "big boxes" of the internet mirror the costs/benefits of their analogues in retail: low or nonexistent prices, ease of use, high barriers to entry for the little guy, enormous amounts of consumer information in the hands of a few.

Like your Wal-Mart post of a few days ago, internet giants and their huge capital resources help the web grow. Look how popular Blogger got after the Google buyout, and look at how unbelievably awesome Flickr has become under Yahoo. There are thousands of examples of this.

Still, a lot of hope remains in the opensource/free sector, which provides alternatives to nearly all corporate products. The free OpenOffice.org office suite has been around for years (Sun publishes the "official" version). Professors use LON-CAPA for online homework because it's free. Non-Adobe PDF readers are supposedly becoming popular, too.

It will be interesting to see how good and how relevant truly public software remains in the face of competition from the giant marketing databases with names like Google and Facebook.

Enough for now.

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