Do you remember the prescient flash piece about Googlezon? If you haven’t viewed it, set aside a few minutes and check it out.
Created in 2004, it rather accurately describes customized content, crowdsourcing, and social networks. It also predicts the future of media, the fall of newspapers in favor of infotainment, the rise of bloggers. What really interests me in thinking about it today, though, is its prediction that Google, a seemingly benign search engine, would take over the world. True, there were already signs, for example, Google’s creation of their own mail service, but really, Google didn’t seem set for world domination yet. Since the Googlezon piece was created, Google has invested in too many services to name, including Blogger and Youtube, and just last week partnered with Tivo.
Google’s motto “don’t be evil” is puzzling. If a giant corporation says it’s not evil, does that make it true? I only wonder because they recently took over EtherPad, an amazing collaborative tool that most of you probably haven’t heard about. To be honest, I was excited to find a cool writing tool that wasn’t part of the Google franchise. I wanted to support the little guys I guess, and I didn’t want to be served adwords or have my behavior tracked in a not so transparent way. I have no reason to believe I was safer with Etherpad, but I’m beginning to wonder what price I’m paying for my free Internet.
Savvy Internet users should know that their behavior is being tracked on the Internet, but do they act accordingly? Does it bother you that Google serves Adwords related to the content of your e-mails when you’re reading your Gmail inbox? Sure, they’re just pulling text, they don’t really know you. In fact, some of the ads they serve are downright funny. But now I use Google calendar — I have a personal and work calendar. I also use Google docs for work, where I also manage two blogs on Blogger. Any Internet search I do is through Google. Why use AltaVista or another search engine when I like the way Google functions?
In the Googlezon world, magazine subscribers receive a magazine with a picture of their house on the cover, taken by satellite, and content served according to the preferences of each resident. Eerily possible?
I feel like a pretty savvy user–I study how people conduct research on the Internet, after all–but I’m not censoring myself on Gmail. The thing is, I don’t really know what information Google is collecting on me. Sometimes I care, but to be honest, I’m pretty complacent. I mean, their motto is “don’t be evil” and they were started by two grad students at Stanford…I feel like they’re like me…(mostly) normal, well-intentioned people. But I have to remember that Google is a company, a company that is quickly snatching up anything independent that competes with them and offering services that directly compete with mega-corporate Microsoft.
Why don’t I, a savvy Internet user, know what information Google is collecting on me and how they’re using it? Why isn’t Google more transparent? Am I a lazy, uninformed user, or is the company who does no evil being secretive and perhaps downright sneaky with my information? What price am I paying for Google’s free services? I find it interesting that a company that pushes for open source and general openness on their phone is so opaque when it comes to us, our information. Where is Google’s worth, after all? Is it in free searches, book previews, streaming video, news? I think its value lies in us.