What Are We Going to do Tonight, Google?

Pinky and the Brain, Vol. 1
When I was an undergrad, I moved off campus somewhere around my junior year. I used to make absolutely certain that I was home by 4:00 every evening, because the ultimate in escapism was awaiting as my reward. The thirty minute reprieve for which I longed as sweet relief from the stresses of undergraduate life? Animaniacs

One of my favorite refrains from this classic piece of animated history was the exchange between Pinky and the Brain (who would later move on to their own thirty minutes of stardom), which went like this: 

“What are we going to do tonight, Brain?”

“The same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to TAKE OVER THE WORLD!!!!”

Yes, that was good comedy.

I mention this because I couldn’t help but hear these gene-spliced lab mice discussing their evil machinations when I read over the weekend that Google is in talks to purchase Hulu. I understand that (unfortunately) where profit is to be made, corporate giants will play. I just wish that there was more of a focus on doing something well, rather than making millions upon millions by doing everything one can that happens to be closely related to what they do well.

What I mean is this: Google is synonymous with search. Search is what they’ve always done better than anyone else. Recently, as the trend of the information age has shifted to the cloud, Google has positioned themselves (arguably very well) to become  synonymous with cloud computing. What’s more, nearly everyone can access their web applications because these applications are free for the end user, supported by Google’s ad revenue. This is because ad placement is something else with which Google has attempted to make themselves synonymous. So, you see where I’m going with this? In one paragraph, I’ve counted three things that Google has positioned themselves to do better than anyone else. And I haven’t even discussed mapping, streetviews, geo-tagging, and book scanning and sales (some of which have resulted in some legal issues that are still playing out).

Now, obviously (as this blog is hosted where it is) I use Google. In fact, I live in my Google account for various daily functions, because its relatively simple, and Google makes it intentionally easy to export your data to other services whenever you so choose. Google also makes for the best email experience ever by general consensus. And, while I see the advantages of the cloud, its primary use in my life is in my role as a blogger. Otherwise, I use the cloud for basic data syncing, and often not even that (as a paranoid writer, I refuse to entrust pre-copyrighted manuscripts to cloud-based servers). I don’t even have much use for cloud-based music servers that are becoming all the rage, other than perhaps as a secondary back-up solution. Still, one has to recognize that the cloud offers enormous simplicity for many reasons, and, ultimately, more and more of our daily lives will find themselves migrating there simply because that’s the natural progression of our current technology.

Which leads me to my concern over Google.

There is much talk of Google’s corporate culture in the tech world. One of the corporations’s central values, apparently, is “Don’t be evil.” I scratched my head when Google bought YouTube. I deeply considered the Google Books project, but concluded that they were trying to do something for the greater good. If, however, Google purchases Hulu (a site that has replaced cable television for the tech-savvy…and did I mention that Google has a foray into the television world already?), I begin to suspect that they’re trying to take over the world. Well, the digital world, at least. If one digital provider assumes too much power, can we not legitimately hold some trepidation that absolute power will corrupt absolutely? Providing competition in the consumer technology sphere is admirable, but controlling an enormous number our everyday media outlets is a bit scary (one can make the ethical argument that any one source controlling the entirety of our media thus controls the thoughts of a culture…and its a short leap from there to search domination, as well).

Also at issue (as anyone who has struggled with time management will attest) is the fact that doing too many things results in doing none of them well. Google currently dominates search. They have the best mapping applications, both mobile and desktop. They created the mobile OS that is the only serious competitor to iOS. They own the largest video streaming site in the world, and are linking themselves to televisions in living rooms. They are valiantly attempting to make the world’s literature accessible to anyone with a web browser. They do chat, they do video calls, they do email, they do calendars. They do word processing. They do blogs. Is it possible to continue to do all of these well? We’ve already seen Google (arguably) fail with its attempt at micro-blogging, and only recently have they launched themselves into the social networking sphere.

I like Google. I use many of their cloud services, and I use them happily. No one can touch their search capability, and I like hosting this blog here. Honestly, however, there are some things for which I use other providers, based simply on the fact that I’m just paranoid enough to not want any one provider to have that much data about that much of my life. I wish that, instead of expanding into brave new worlds, Google would concentrate on the handful of things that they do better than anyone else.

I’m going to suspect that they’re having another night in the lab planning their next grandiose scheme at world domination when they launch their own music store.

Oh, wait. They already have.

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