Saturday, September 30, 2006

A Comment on Pondering about Google's Evilness

Some time ago Tom Foremski pondered over the ethics of Google's pouring free services and software to the market. His column is sliced into three parts
Part 1: The limits of Google's limitless business model
Part 2: Will Google's limitless business plan test the limits of its ethics code?, and
Part 3: Could nationalism limit Google's ambitions?

Even though this isn't anymore new in the blogosphere I wanted to write out my thoughts about his article because I think it's good to thoroughly think what the emergence of Google as well at the general convergence of the web and different services means. So, I think Foremski's questioning is good. But:

I'm somewhat disturbed about some of these anti-Google comments like this. I'm left wondering if people are forgetting that the users use these services because they get great value from using them? Isn't THAT what is important? And what difference does it make if Google doesn't capitalize the added value in a way other businesses typically do or not (something that particularily seems to bother Foremski)? I really don't understand. And Tom Foremski doesn't even try to explain.

Just the fact that Google's products make it difficult or impossible for some (not all) smaller players to compete in the sector is a lousy explanation. It's really too bad for the smaller ones, but I have huge difficulties seeing it as evil or unethical from Google's side per se. Just the fact that freeware has made it more difficult for some players in some sectors doesn't make it evil!

Saying that Google locks people to their services doesn't have a very solid ground either. Let's be honest here!

Gmail is the first larger free email service that lets you both download your email and change your email service provider for free (forwarding for free). I'd say this is _un_locking peoples' emails.

And the problem in downloading 2.5GB of email? What is this?!?

I pop my email every once in a while to my computer to have an archive locally, too. Other than it being very useful for situations when I don't have a network connection but need to check out something or reply it's also common sense! No provider, especially a free one, can give you a 100% guarantee that they don't lose your data.

But even if I wouldn't download my emails incrementally it wouldn't take that long to download 2.5GB. What kind of connections do you guys have, anyways?

It's good to be wary about the privacy issues and keep an eye on how Google handles the data it collects (having said that I know that you can't really know for sure). But it's not as if MS, AOL, or other big players were any better!

This brings me back to the claim that Google is locking people. Gmail is not the only service where Google let's people keep their content. Google Reader has OPML import, and Export, too. Google Notebook let's you print your notes in a stylish less-is-more way (I keep a back-up of my notes printed as PDF). And so on.

Besides Gmail the other best example - and also the latest case for Google not locking users unlike many other services do - is Picasa Web Albums. It allows users to very easily download all of their photos back to their computers. And allow their friends/family to do that, too. This has been a huge annoyance in just about all of the photo services on the market for a long time. Many of the services still are at worst case billing you for your own photos if you want them back (ie. not allowing you to download your photos but allowing you to buy them burned on a DVD). Now, that's evil.

All this doesn't mean that Google is perfect. Far from it. It surely doesn't make all the information that users type into their systems easily available for them to download or transfer to other systems. At least Bookmarks and Blogger are service that don't have a solid, easy-to-use export system (as far as I know). But again, the other big players aren't any better - some are surely worse, though.

It's very important that people understand what they're getting into. And there are many who don't. I think that's a real and a big problem.

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