Google’s empire, or why I am a willing thrall

by Shihang

The browser is a programme designed to let you surf the net, so it makes sense that the good ones include features that allow you to do so as easily as possible. For example, on chrome and firefox (not sure about ie), you can search specific websites directly from the search bar: for example if I set “gs” to refer to Google Scholar, the search term “gs labour economics” will bring me directly to a Google Scholar search results page for labour economics. Simple applications like this make surfing the net that much easier. Similarly, I think Google, with its suite of applications, is slowly becoming a browser on top of a browser, in that its homepage is chock full of handy tools that allow you to surf the net better.

This is reminiscent of AOL, when the net was largely boxed in. If you have a Google account, you can access your email, read the news, check your RSS feeds and search the internet directly from your homepage (and when Google plus is rolled out, socialise with your friends). The new bar on top of the Google homepage allows easy access to all its services. Google has basically worked to make accessing information, which forms the bulk of what I do online, a lot easier:

The interesting thing about Google is that it doesn’t seek to monopolise content, so we can still have all that dynamism that the Internet offers when they take over. Rather, they’re trying to be a good gateway to the internet, and as long as it does this while maintaining net neutrality, I have no complaints. Furthermore, all Google’s services are basically substitutes for services already provided online: News is a substitute for browsing individual news sites, Reader is a way to avoid a lot of RSS emails, Calendar is a planner accessible anywhere. There are substitutes, which is why I don’t find Google particularly sinister.

Two services that Google offers seem to me to be the exception to the rule. First, Docs seems to be a substitute for offline text editors (a poor one, since Word and Excel still have better features, and are seamlessly integrated with your documents), as well as a way to share information. Gmail does this way better, since it has a lot more memory, has an efficient tagging system, and is simpler to use. I’m sure you can even archive things on Gmail in a pinch.

Offline applications (and things like text editors, spreadsheets and file manager) still have a role to play, even if it is less accessible than online applications. There is no inherent benefit to online applications, but increased accessibility, which is hardly an issue given portable hard drives and flash drives.

Google Plus is a different barrel of fish altogether: for once, Google wants you to stay on a Google site (technically News and Reader does that too, but mainly to access outside content). With Google Plus on its home page, what reason is there to venture out of the Google fold. Content producers are not threatened, unless Google becomes evil. G+ integrates well with its existing communications apps, Talk and Mail, and is becoming increasingly integrated as Google implements the overarching People framework.

The future looks Google and I don’t mind.