Looking into the Google Toolbox, Finding Goodies and Quirks

The Economist’s recent meditation on Google prompted me to reflect on my use of the Google toolbox and some of the curiosities I’ve noticed. First, Google Blog Search is featuring lots of spam lately. Second, Google News, which has become my default blackberry app, is enamored of local TV sites, particularly for sports. Recently I’ve found myself in San Diego, Houston and Kansas City. G News says it pulls from 4,500 sources, I wonder how many are local TV sites.

I have not complaints with Google Reader, although I am looking forward to upcoming features such as feed recommendations and more tools for sharing. [Update: I failed to mentioned GR’s search function, which debuted last week. I’ve found it a helpful workaround the BlogSearch spam problem I mentioned earlier: what’s better than limiting a search to the trusted sources to which I subscribe?] Philip Lenssen has details on what’s coming, and on Reader’s figures.

I’m glad to see Google Transit, with public transport trip planning and maps. I can’t wait for Chicago to be added, so I no longer have to visit that awful Chicago Transit Agency site. And today comes news of Google’s social media, Facebook NewsFeed-inspired prooject Makamaka (or is it Mochamocha?).

Lastly, I am spending insufficient time with Google Earth, which may prove to the company’s more important app of all.

Takeaways from the aforementioned Economist piece, Who’s Afraid of Google?:

Ironically, there is something rather cloudlike about the multiple complaints surrounding Google. The issues are best parted into two cumuli: a set of “public” arguments about how to regulate Google; and a set of “private” ones for Google’s managers, to do with the strategy the firm needs to get through the coming storm. On both counts, Google—contrary to its own propaganda—is much better judged as being just like any other “evil” money-grabbing company.

That is because, from the public point of view, the main contribution of all companies to society comes from making profits, not giving things away. Google is a good example of this. Its “goodness” stems less from all that guff about corporate altruism than from Adam Smith’s invisible hand….

One obvious strategy is to allay concerns over Google’s trustworthiness by becoming more transparent and opening up more of its processes and plans to scrutiny. But it also needs a deeper change of heart. Pretending that, just because your founders are nice young men and you give away lots of services, society has no right to question your motives no longer seems sensible. Google is a capitalist tool—and a useful one. Better, surely, to face the coming storm on that foundation, than on a trite slogan that could be your undoing.

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