We already live in a world where, thanks to Google, all the information we’ll ever need is available in seconds. The next stage is going to be about answering this question: Now that we have all this information, how do we best leverage it to make a difference to our daily lives? You see, today, all of Google’s magic has been confined to the web browser, to static Web pages. Google’s now trying to drive its expertise to revolutionize every aspect of our communication. The building blocks are already in place, and Google’s already begun the effort of trying to put these together, with potentially astounding results. This essay is a hypothesis of how Google, in the next three to five years, could leverage all the applications and services it offers today, and offer unprecedented integration to get users to live “The Google Lifestyle”: where Google is an omnipresent tool that we will all use.
Why is it Google’s lifestyle that we’ll be leading?
Right. So what makes this company so hard to beat? First, like all great companies, Google happens to be the right idea in the right place at the right time. Today, as it expands beyond its bastion of web search, it’s more likely to succeed than the also-rans, most significantly Netscape. The technology that Google needs to implement all its futuristic ideas, is already there, or will be ready in the very near future. Second, just as Microsoft’s broad strategy is all based upon the personal desktop – which is yesterday’s platform – and all that connects to it, Google, a generation later than Microsoft, is all about the Internet – tomorrow’s platform – and anything that connects to it. And the Internet, based on open standards since its inception, does not care about the platform that a user is running. That is what spells doom for Third-Generation companies, which attempted to tie users down to their own respective platforms. We live in a world of unprecedented advances in communications technology, and the Internet has been the driving force behind this. A company, whose strategy is based solely upon gaining control of this medium, has a pretty serious shot at being able to dictate the future lifestyle.
Google is also using “free” as its mantra for beating the competition, to “devalue Microsoft’s assets”, according to Robert Young. Since Google’s revenue stream is targeted advertising, which seems to be bringing them ample revenue, all of its services will be free offerings. Given the plummeting price and staggering performance increases in compute power, it costs Google a very little to provide the massive amounts of storage and processing power that these services need. The computer, then, becomes just a terminal for viewing and manipulating data. All your data resides away from your computer, on Google’s servers. Already, your email, your buddy list, your pictures, and increasingly your movies, and finally, your documents, will reside on Google’s servers.
How will Google enhance our communication on the web? Well, Google’s already made forays into the email, messaging, VOIP, blogging and social networking markets. Its personal communications strategy is based on the assumption that if a whole lot of people begin using its products, a bunch of very interesting things are possible:
Email is the centerpiece of our online communication. (For all of those who doubt that, what’s the first piece of e-information that you give to anyone you interact with? Your website/blog address? Your instant messaging ID? Nope, it’s your email address!) So to begin with, Google wants your Gmail address to become your online identity. In fact, Google’s even begun calling your Gmail address as your “Google account”. And you need this account to use a lot of Google’s services. Anyone with a Google account can now use Google’s instant messaging service – bare-bones, no-nonsense service named Google Talk. Also, an account holder can put up a profile on Google’s excellent social networking service, named Orkut. There are other similar social networking services too, but Google’s got this one sewn up – the interface and feature list are just great! Finally, you can start your own blog with Blogger. Blogs are now universally acknowledged as an important factor in shaping the future of journalism.
Now put all of this together. Imagine you receive an email from your friend, notifying you about the date for your high school reunion. You think – well, that’s a very good opportunity for me to hook up with my buddies, and a bit of business networking too. So you’d like to be well prepared for this event. Since everyone who’s invited is on the cc: list in the email, you use Gmail’s integration with Google Talk to see if the sender of the email (who is presumably the organizer) is online. If he/she is, simply call him/her up, (Henceforth, for sake of convenience, “he” is to be read as “he or she”) via Google Talk. Use Gmail’s integration with Orkut to check out the profiles of each of your former schoolmates. Use Google’s advanced search capabilities to search for the kind of people you want to hook up with – for purely personal or business reasons. Catch up with them, using Google Talk. When you meet, you don’t have to spend a lot of awkward moments breaking the ice – you’ve already been in touch! And right from your desk – and all instantaneously – and all for free! That’s the kind of integration we’re talking about! And recall Google Desktop (currently Version 2)? That will be your receptacle to access all of Google’s services – the one-stop Google stop – on your desktop!
In the entertainment industry, Google could start up a service akin to iTunes, perhaps by hooking up with Nokia (or another smartphone provider), and record companies. I expect that single-functionality devices such as the iPod and other MP3 players will eventually die out, to be replaced by mobile phones which have the same kind of audio and storage capability (for instance, the Nokia N91). There would be no need to download music, as it’s done today. You ‘buy’ unlimited rights to listen to a song, but the song itself resides on Google’s servers. You could use Google’s advanced search functionality to quickly find the song you want.
I predict a similar phenomenon with TV. Google could push for a standard that involves plugging “Television” into the internet – via TCP/IP, instead of via the current bunch of satellites, which would enable the company to provide never-before features like customizable program/channel listings, pause/fast forward/rewind for scheduled movies (TiVo, only far better). Video will no longer be simply a one-way streaming medium, but an amazingly creative and vibrant publishing platform. Again, none of this requires data to be stored on your devices – only the applications to use Google’s services.
The Mobile space:
It is now inevitable that the mobile phone will be the computing platform of the future. According to Rajesh Jain, one of India’s most famous technology entrepreneurs, we are now at the threshold of convergence of the “three screens” of our lives – the Television, the computer monitor, and the mobile phone. Nokia’s director of strategic marketing, Olli-Pekka Lintula, recently stated to the Wall Street Journal that “All future phones for enterprises from Nokia will also be Wi-Fi equipped “. Once that happens, mobile phones will truly become part of the Internet – and that could present Google with the opportunity for becoming the world’s largest mobile service provider!
It’d be straightforward to have a small version of Google Desktop’s sidebar for mobile phones. That would be the mobile user’s starting point for all his interactions with the online world. He wouldn’t need to maintain a local “Contacts” list, because his Gmail address book already provides him with that. There’s no need to send an SMS. Since Google Talk is integrated into your phone, you can carry your online “presence” or “status” out into the real world. You can simply verify that the recipie
is not busy currently, and either call him straightaway using Google Talk for mobile, or the offline messaging feature of Google Talk.
Google in May this year bought a company named Dodgeball. Dodgeball is a mix of social networking tools (very similar to Orkut, but much simpler), that use mobile messaging and location awareness to “hook” people physically near each other. Elegant, but tremendously useful. Now, there are two observations here: 1.) the mobile phone actually is the link between the online world and the real world. Carrying all of our online communications paradigms into the real world opens up so many possibilities! 2.) Google could link Dodgeball’s tools, Orkut profiles and its own search capabilities, so that a user could now actually type in a query like – “list all those people in a radius of three blocks, who have an interest in philately”! That is SO neat! Or you could hook it up to your Gmail address book and Google Talk’s presence feature for queries like “list all of my friends who’re no more than a kilometre away, and have nothing to do all evening!”
Imagine – this is possible, and with tools and services that are available today! We live in exciting times!
I end with a quote from a recent article in Time Magazine. If the prospect of such a day – where Search meets the Internet meets the Mobile space – does not thrill you, nothing will!
“You land late in the evening in a city where you know nobody. You did not have time to book a hotel, your luggage has not turned up on the carousel–and the plane’s air conditioning gave you a sore throat. What to do?
With your cell phone, you first Google your suitcase–it has a small implanted chip that responds to radio waves with a GPS locator–and it turns out that your luggage has been deposited 200 yards away in the next terminal. As you walk over, you search for a hotel room; the screen of your cell shows you pictures of several hotels in your price bracket, with views from individual room windows. Your search engine gives you a list of pharmacies that are still open at this hour, and tells you that your favorite blues band will be playing at a festival in the city’s park over the weekend. The engine can search your desktop back home, and it reminds you that a college friend e-mailed you a year ago to say he and his wife were moving to this city (you had forgotten). You decide to invite them to the festival.
What you have just tasted is the future of search. It will change the way humans interface with computers and make today’s methods seem as outmoded as telex machines and brick-size mobile phones.”
Onwards, to the Google Lifestyle!