Jumping the Google Shark

It's easy to get addicted to the Google cloud. First it was Google Documents, then Google Calendar, then the contacts feature in Gmail , and Google Desktop and Sidebar, Blogger and Picasa ... many of them viewed via the Google Chrome browser. Oh, and iGoogle, a way of creating a customisable home page.  Each of these services and others not mentioned here is frequently updated, richly featured and weirdest of all, free.  So what gives? As Robert Heinlein once observed, There Aint No Such Thing as a Free Lunch. Reassuringly, this law still holds. Google uses these digital plums to generate customer loyalty,  drive traffic to its search engine and stimulate advertising revenue (99% of Google's revenue comes from advertising).  If you use a Google product every day, or a whole constellation of them, then it seems logical that you would also use their search engine.

But as long as they are offering the services, why not take advantage? Keep in mind that what the Google giveth, the Google may taketh away. However, with such massive user bases building up for some of these services, the cost in customer outrage might be high enough to at least give Google pause if they are planning to withdraw one of their digital freebies.

Here's a brief summary of some of the advantages of you Googelising your life (apologies to Derek Zoolander):

  • Access to contacts independent of location (assuming you have an Internet connection): Gmail

  • Access to word documents and spreadsheets independent of location: Documents

  • Ability to sychronise mail and contacts between cloud and PC/Mac: Gmail, via various software solutions

  • Access to a huge online email cache (that can also be converted by one utility into an online file storage facility): Gmail

  • Blindingly fast image catalogue that automatically tracks and adds images in selected folders: Picasa

  • Comprehensive database of everything on your computer, with search results delivered much faster than Windows: Desktop

  • A fast and stable browser that won't crash if one of the tabbed sessions fails: Chrome

On the debit side of the ledger, there are some disadvantages:

  • Potential loss of privacy. Google is going to end up knowing a lot about you, your habits and interests, and possibly your friends. They may do no evil, but their interests are not necessarily congruent with yours.

  • Over-reliance on a single provider

Google has competitors, but they don't have Google's depth and breadth. Google is able to swallow up smaller companies offering innovative online software solutions (YouTube, anyone?) and to encourage software developers to write programs that extend the functionality of Google freeware. The resulting situation has a momentum that does not yet seemed to have reached any inherent limits.