A different way to see Google.

What I saw when my veil came off.

Google has always been my dream place of working, or at least until a recent experience that made me see them… differently.

Like most people that I’d imagine which grew up in a world where everyone was switching from closed complicated expensive products to the empowering free convenient Google products, Google has always seemed like a great place to work, and with Google Chrome doing such an amazing job of moving the web forward, as well their Chrome Desktop Apps initiative. My interest peaked, and I decided to follow up with a recruiter from Google who had an eye on me.

After a few discussions, we established that the Developer Platform team in Mountain View would be ideal for me. So the phone interviews began.

After going through all the phone interviews, I was invited to fly over to Mountain View to continue the interviews. This is when the snag happened. In order to fly over, I would have to sign an NDA.

Now, I’ve always been against NDAs. I’ve even recently done up an Open Information Pledge indicating so (which you can find a link to on my website’s contact form even!).

But, what struck me strange about this, was that I would have to sign an NDA to work on open-source work all day long… I declined to proceed further, unless they adopted a pro-disclousure agreement instead, of which, they didn’t.

And that was that. Before I proceed further, it’s important to say the interview experience was phenomal, they did an amazing job every step of the way, and I could not flaw them one bit. The recruiters, the interviewers, the team members I spoke to, everyone was amazing, incredibily facilating, and there is not a bad word to say, only good. Thank you everyone. This story is not about them, but about what I’ve come to realise, which I’ll detail now.

So ever after that experience… after having that question… “why would I need to sign an NDA to work on open-source things?” as well as my views on NDAs that I linked to earlier. I started wondering if I had misperceived Google, if my perception of them had been wrong. I started wondering what they’re actually about.

Are they a company that is trying to empower people, by creating amazing applications for them, amazing tools for developers, and amazing resources to get started with their eco-system? Most certainly they are that.

Are they also something else? Here’s where things get interesting.

With the shutdown of Google Reader, I was devastated. I wondered why they would kill such a thing. It reminded me of the neglect that Picasa got. And I still hear complaints from my mum about iGoogle being removed everytime I visit her. I started wondering, why some products get killed, even if they have a huge following like Reader. Well, because it doesn’t align with their business model and strategy.

> The way Google earns money is by providing adverts to you, the higher the conversion rate, the more money Google gets, the higher the conversation rate, the more information they need about you.

Sure that makes sense, that’s expected. “But why kill Reader?!” I hear you plead, “they could have used that to get information of articles you read to better serve you advertising?”. Perhaps. But do they really need an application to do that in such an isolated use case, when they already have Google Chrome tracking everything you browse on the web, every website you visit, all the rest, for the majority of the connected world’s population? With that in mind, Reader is small game for improving their business model returns.

When you see Google through this lense, everything starts falling into place.

Google is all about interfaces, all about interfaces that intercept your information.

  • Google Search is the interface that intercepts your queries, what you’re interested in.
  • Google Chrome is the interface that intercepts your browsing, what you’re looking into.
  • Google Maps is the interface that intercepts your travels, what locations interest you.
  • Google Now is the interface that intercepts your locations, where you’ve been.
  • Gmail is the interface that intercepts your email conversations, what you talk about.
  • Google Hangouts is the interface that intercepts your calls and chats, and whom you talk to.
  • Google Play is the interface that intercepts the media you like.
  • Android is the interface that intercepts everything you do on your mobile pc, your calls, your sms, your apps, your contacts etc.
  • Google Chrome OS is the interface that intercepts everything you do on your home pc, your apps, your contacts, your documents, your work, etc.
  • Google Glass is the interface that intercepts your vision, what you see.
  • Google Drive is the interface that intercepts your documents, what you write.
  • Google’s Self-Driving Car is the interface that intercepts your driving habits, when you need fuel, how much fuel left, etc.
  • and, most recently, Google Loon, is the interface that intercepts ALL your internet connectivity.

When you view Google this way, they really are the next Skynet… or maybe the next Matrix… or whatever you want to call it.

What Google is really about, isn’t so much about empowering people with free products and better tooling, but rather getting an interface into everywhere, to intercept everything, with the benefits of free and convenient products and tools.

The problem is, is that this is the best business model in the world, and it’s terrifying…

Who doesn't want better tools for free that help them find what they want faster?

Update: Aral Balkan has done a fantastic talk with RSA Animate about this very topic that is well worth watching. I’ve also done a follow up of why exactly this situation concerns me, that is also well worth reading.

Curious: These are alternatives that don’t invade your privacy. I use DuckDuckGo for searching. Wire and Signal for messaging. Apple for most things, including email. And ProtonMail for super secure email.