Thursday, 24 December 2009

Google are building an information ecosystem

From SVP of Products at Google comes 'The meaning of open', which is a fascinating insight into Google's business philosophy, and, by extension, a formula for running a successful internet business.

The article has caused quite a stir in the internet firmament with skeptics saying that it's very disingenuous: that Google only opens up some technologies and that, as a listed company, it is obliged to try to dominate and maximize profits through 'closed' strategies, even if it uses 'open' tactics.

Yet, the article does address these points directly: Google's fundamental assumption is that the Internet has a long way to go in terms of growth, and rather than trying to cordon off sections of it, their approach is to facilititate the overall expansion of it and simultaneously create offerings that are compelling not through their market dominance (a la Microsoft Office), but through their cohesion with virtually any other products, and their empowerment of the user. Their rationale for keeping search algorithms and advert creation closed is consistent with that philosophy: to open them up risks people 'gaming' the systems, and not only eroding their value, but also putting personal privacy at risk. To this latter point, Rosenberg also dodges contradicting Eric Schmidt's comment that "only people with something to hid should worry about privacy". Google are not champions of users' privacy, but they are champions of user control - it is up to us to control our privacy.

On the one hand it all seems simply sensible to me, but in this age of short term quarterly stock market results intermingled with 'on message' platitudes to sustainability, and nanny states 'protecting' us from ourselves with health & safety and Legislation for Dummies, it reads like a revolutionary philosophy. Google are trying to build an information ecosystem. Now that's sustainability.