After writing yesterday about the launch of Google Pages Beta at Should Google Lead the Web Development Tools Market? I realized that Google has changed profoundly from what they were at first.
At the beginning, Google was an enabling technology by really making the world wide web “matter” accessible to everyone. They have contributed immensely in making the web a useful and enjoyable place to be.
Ever since Google raised their head towards direct competition with Microsoft (the notoriously centralistic company) they have become more and more like what they have taught us to hate – their opponent. Google with their ever-growing spree of applications launched almost every week in recent years are becoming a kind of a large web application development powerhouse with a very large userbase and less of a web hub as they use to be. Killing us softly with their features:)
We can try to attribute this change to the perceived rules of engagement at the big pond, where Microsoft “had” to create sophisticated “lock-in” methods on the platform level (apps tightly coupled with dev tools that are tightly coupled with operating systems) in order to maintain leadership. But still, I can’t forget that the new competition between Google and Microsoft on the dominance of the web takes place on a competitive landscape Google created with their own hands. The web as a new competitive landscape is profoundly different then the personal/business computing landscape most of all for the distributed nature of the web. User “lock-in” may not be the smartest way to maintain dominance in a distributed world.
Google seems to follow Microsoft by adding rather centralistic products such as the recent Google Pages Beta launch (a web authoring and hosting application), Google Reader, or even Personalized Google. I humbly think that a better way for Google to maintain the distinction from Microsoft in their own playground should be to increase their reach into more content as well as other new enabling capabilities such as Google Earth as you would expect from a distributed world platform leader and not by adding few more tools. These new applications rush needless to say ambitions over operating systems may lead only to marginal benefit both for users as well as for Google in comparison to what they have done before.
The legendary “lock-in” strategy which is the holy grail in the personal and organizational computing world has many good reasons to be a “holy grail” in a world that is dramatically less diverse than the web. Of course, it does not have to be automatically the right answer for creating platform leadership on the web. The highly distributed nature of the web has always embraced loosely coupled innovation (open source) in terms of the relationship between the vendor and the user and creating one central point of service on the web just doesn’t fit in.
I think that keeping this wrong trail Google will end up as another closed community portal (AOL?) which does many things but is not meaningful (except for their shareholders).
Just a thought – It seems that the new fight over the web in the next decade will be on the “lock-in” mentality between the state of mind of the open-source world vs. the proprietary world (Microsoft and Google and many others).
P.S. This centralistic approach takes me back 15 years ago to the time I was at the army and part of an IBM mainframe applications team where centrality was the main and only way of thinking.