I’ve said on many occasions before that while I often find Google’s products underwhelming, I really do admire their ambition. What Project Glass amounts to is the next natural step in creating a cloud of data around the physical world.
“[Google] was becoming less a research project than an Internet start-up run from a private university. Page and Brin’s reluctance fo write a paper about their work had become notorious in the department. ‘People were saying ‘Why is this so secret? This is an academic project, we should be able to know how it worked’ says Terry Winograd.
Page, it seemed, had a conflict about information. On one hand, he subscribed heartily to the hacker philosophy about shared knowledge… But he also had a strong sense of protecting his hard-won proprietary information.” (My emphasis)
This pattern of sharing everything except the information and code which actually makes you money was set very early, and continues to this day. You can see it with Android: The bits which Google gives away aren’t the ones which define “the Android experience” for customers, like Gmail, YouTube and Maps, but the code which allows geeks to tinker. And, of course, the algorithms and data which makes Google its money via advertising remain very, very securely under lock and key.
I should say at this point: There’s nothing morally objectionable about this approach. But I think that this tension between what’s open and what’s closed at Google will, sooner or later, be something that forces the company to redefine itself.
Levy’s book, incidentally, is full of gems like this, and I’d highly recommend it.
“Extracting signal from noise is one of our core competencies, it’s one of the key things we do in our web search product every day. And I think that now peoples’ personal communications are getting to be on a scale comparable to that of web search, so those technologies are becoming far more critical.”
And this is the bit that I don’t understand about Google Buzz: There are few actual tools to manage the flow of information you’re going to get from it. There’s no tagging of shared items to help filtering. You can’t filter out one type of content from someone you follow, so (for example) you can’t hide Twitters that you might already see in Twitter. And so on.
Overall, I’m fairly upbeat on Buzz as a long-term project. It’s easier to understand and use that the abomination that is Google Wave, and once the initial shouting has stopped, it’s a useful method of link-sharing to contacts. Viewed that way, rather than as some kind of Twitter/Facebook competitor, it’s a nice add-on to Gmail.
And, of course, it will help a lot when every other Buzz isn’t about Buzz.
(Photo of Sergey Brin by jdlasica)