The case against Google

If you haven’t already read it, you probably want to spend some time to read Mat Homan’s thoughtful (and long) piece on what is happening with the new Google. (just click the title link above)

But while Google was busy holding up the sky, the ground beneath its feet shifted in ways it didn’t anticipate. Our searches have evolved from the merely factual to the deeply personal. We want to find a nice hotel or a good restaurant or a particular person. We want to know what’s happening right now, right here. And increasingly, we turned to smaller, fragmented, platforms to get that stuff.

Here is my version of it:

The Web

The old Google is all about the search, and essentially, the World Wide Web. Google is the search engine and it rules the Web by its ranking algorithms. Everything else the old Google had been doing was to either get more people to use the Internet (which was, largely, the Web) or make people use it more. The logic is simple: the more people browse the web, the more they search, and the more advertisements they will click on.

GMail and Chrome, the rock-star products of the Google as we knew it, have made the Web apps as good as their desktop counterparts, if not even better. They are good. They are free. They made me a huge fan of Google and I have been using them ever since they were released. As a result, the browsers become faster, enabling more sophisticated Web apps that make use of the extra horsepower.

…until the Web (sort-of) died. Google has to do something about it. And here comes all the controversies about Search plus Your World.

Neutrality

The major reason why people get frustrated about this personalized Google search, in my opinion, is the loss of Google’s neutrality.

Google, as the search engine, is regarded by some as a type of utility, similar to electricity or water. It should be non-biased towards anyone, which means people should get exactly the same supply of power or water when they plug-in a power cord or turn on the tap. In the same way, people would expect to get the same result when Googling the same keywords.

If the official interpretation of Google’s motto “don’t be evil” is “subverting the power of Google to commercial ends”, its current endeavor to integrate search with other Google products is clearly contradicting this notion of “not evil”. Promoting its own products can be considered a direct threat to its neutrality, for which, Baidu — the Chinese search engine — has long been criticized.

At lease one lesson should be learned: a broken promise can hurt people’s feelings very badly.

The Vision

Apart from the trust issue, if the personalized search turn out to be a better experience for users, it might be justifiable. But I’m more concerned about Google’s seemingly lack of commitment to the Web.

Google is confronting Facebook with its own social network Google+, which also includes a location service, video chat, and even more. On the other hand, it is engaging Apple with a huge fleet of Android smartphones and tablets, together with its newly revamped storefront.

The problem is: these are someone else’s visions, not Google’s.

Facebook is all about social relationships and making people share more things onto its walled garden. Apple is building a whole spectrum of post-PC “resolutionary” screens surrounding its iTunes Store ecosystem and iCloud service. It is said that some TV-sized device might soon join these screens.

With its huge investments into Google+ and Android (and doubling down on tablets this year), Google has officially endorsed Facebook’s version of future human relationships and Apple’s version of future computing by racing against them.

Surely, this strategy could work. Microsoft has done it. And Tencent might have already done this a thousand times over.

But what about Google’s own version of our future? When Chrome OS came out, I thought that must be it. The open Web might reign over the entire Internet again simply because Google were behind it.

Now, even Google itself doesn’t appear to be convinced…