Google the Platform §

So last week, the web was abuzz with the news that Google had acquired Writely. Writely, if you don’t know (and I didn’t until Google acquired them), is an online word processing application. Sounds pretty sweet. So what does Google want with this?

I’ve been thinking about Google’s moves over the last couple of… well.. for a while, and things are really starting to add up. Putting all of Google’s little projects together, from Gmail, to Blogger, to Google Talk, now Writely, and the upcoming Gdrive, even the rumored Google Calendar, I suspect Google is working on the new ultimate socially-driven platform.

Google Sending a Signal

I suspect that all of these webapps will be adjusted to work in conjunction, seemlessly — and the technology (AJAX) now exists for that to happen. With AJAX, web applications can now operate on the client side (from within your browser) while seemlessly calling on the server backend, and mountains of information held in a database. AJAX makes things possible in an instant, without refreshing webpages, or forcing multiple steps. Gmail is run entirely with AJAX; AJAX lets you scroll to a new location in Google Maps without reloading; and is the system of technologies that allowed a web-based word processor to move into existance.

Google is adjusting their business model to coincide with the philosophy of software as a service. Think of it this way — you most likely already have a Gmail account, this account will grant you access to the new Gdrive (when it is launched) that might serve as your hub. Now imagine that you’re a small business, you’re working on some sort of presentation using Writely and want to invite some coworkers into the document for collaboration. Enter Gmail: you will have the ability to seemlessly pull in your Gmail contacts, select which coworkers should receive access, and click “send.” Your colleagues will not only receive an e-mail with a link to the document on your Gdrive, but will probably also receive a message through Google Talk, which, of course, is already integrated into Gmail.

Okay- you’re reading my blog, and you’re probably not a small business. In that case imagine that you maintain a blog with Blogger (and I know that several of my readers do). Blogger will become an integral part of Writely, and probably built into the Google Desktop if you’re a Windows user, so that blogging becomes a matter of a button. Whether you’ve written an article in Writely and want to post it seemlessly to Blogger, or if you’re just browsing the web and want one click access to your Blogger account to write about someone else’s article you’ve just stumbled across (this ability already exists, as a matter of fact, with the “Blog This” button.)

Check this out. You have an old computer monitor (or some other good) that you want to sell. Forget about eBay. Now you can take digital pictures, upload them to your Picassa account (a Google company), with one click open Writely and type your description, features, etc. and then one click later post the whole thing to Google Base to find a buyer. Still don’t think that’s where we’re headed?

You’re For Sale

And of course, how will Google fund all of this? The same way as usual — advertising. Google, after all, is not a software company, they’re an advertising company that writes software. With all of this amazing social technology available for free, you can’t resist, and neither can Google. Their bots will bathe in your Gdrive, they already run laps around your Gmail, and this kind of targeted advertising is going to mean bargain-basement deals for businesses who are accustomed to a percentage of their ad dollars going into the wrong market. Now Google can truly present advertisers with the holy grail of advertising — targeted marketing with a very real target (defined by your actions and documents).

Google’s bots will read your blog, and find out that you’re pissed about your new cell phone, and probably suggest a new one; they’ll read your Writely documents, discover that you’re writing a lot of design briefs, and suggest a new press shop that opened last week and is offering steep discounts for new accounts; they can surf your Google Calendar, see that you have a client lunch scheduled next Thursday, read who that client is, check out their personal info, and then suggest a bistro that is not only to your liking, but your client’s too… and then give you both driving directions using Google Maps. All of these suggestions, of course, will be paid advertisers.

And this can work to your advantage as well. Remember when you posted your old monitor on Google Base? What if Google’s bots could help you sell it. Unlike the current model, where you post your goods and wait, Google’s bots can actively seek out someone in search of what you have. The Google bot will see that you are selling your monitor on Google Base, and can link with someone who has just written on Blogger about needing a new monitor, or someone who has created a calendar entry to go computer shopping, whatever — and suddenly your Google Base entry shows up on their Google Account. Item sold!

Service Empire

Google isn’t the only one moving in this direction, Microsoft is on its way too. Bill Gates recently announced a change in the way Microsoft will build its software, and intends to focus on “software as a service.” All of the scenerios above can be re-written, just drop-in Microsoft’s Live.com products, or Yahoo!’s latest acquisitions…

In fact, Microsoft’s live.com is moving just as quickly as Google on this. Here is the most recent listing of live.com’s services, all available for free, and are platform independent (these are taken from a summary on Paul Thurott’s Windows Supersite):

And Onward

All of the work that Web 2.0 service-based, socially aware companies have put into building themselves up, have put into redefining the Internet as we know it, is working. And it’s working in a very interesting way…

37Signals essentially redefined the way that small businesses collaborated with clients. They created Basecamp as a web-based project management utility to store files, send messages, and collaborate on documents, among other things. Campfire is small business instant messsaging done right.

But where will they fall in the fray? Will companies like 37Signals survive? Or just get bought out with the rest?

Del.icio.us redefined the way we keep Internet bookmarks (or favorites), turning them into a social system, susceptible to tagging and sharing among thousands of users. Sold to Yahoo!.

Writely said why should word processing be relegated to your PC? Why not be able to edit your documents from anywhere? Why do I have to e-mail documents as attachments to collaborate — isn’t it better to work on the same file, in the same location? Sold to Google.

Flickr, the grand-daddy of photo sharing. Made uploading, tagging, sharing, commenting and describing your photos a breeze. Sold to Yahoo!.

Myspace.com, made social-networking work. Photos, blogs, bulletin boards, profiles, commenting, messaging… Sold to Newscorp.

Blogger, one of the first free, web-based blogging sites available. Made blogging a matter of signing up and writing. Sold to Google.

The point is that this service oriented software approach is taking off, and if Web 2.0 means anything, it is that. The Internet is becoming the ultimate social platform, and the companies that can harness it will have a profound impact on our culture.

Business is finally realizing that customers should be in control, because when we’re not we just sneak around until we are again. Microsoft thought they had their monopoly, they had you tied to their operating system, their web browser, their e-mail client, their office software… that is until something better came along. Now Mac OS X is presenting itself as viable to millions (including businesses), Firefox is pushing a dent into Internet Explorer’s dominance, Gmail stole the show from Hotmail, and while Office is fine and dandy for corporate users, small business doesn’t need that much — enter Writely and Basecamp and OpenOffice…

It’s about time that users become the center again, and with so much competition it will be hard to lose. Not happy with Google’s experience? Try Yahoo!. Starting to think Microsoft isn’t as evil as it used to be, jump ship to Live.com — still think that something like user-experience and design matter, there’s still 37Signals.

The point is that in this socialization of software, web applications, and the Internet as a platform, there will be only one winner, you.

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