The Problem with relying on Google

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  • Title: The Problem with relying on Google
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I've used Google's search engine and most of its products for a good few years now. The clean interface and the search results themselves initially drew me in, having previously used Altavista.

Since I studied GCSE IT, I've had a email account - but after receiving an invite to GMail from a fellow Star Wars Galaxies player, my use of hotmail started to decline. My domain email is all sent to my own mailserver, powered by hMailServer but is then downloaded by GMail periodically, as I couldn't find any free and open-source web mail interface that would rival GMail's. Since then 14,000+ emails have made their way into my Inbox. GMail revolutionsed email - no longer did you have to label and organise your email into sub-folders or delete them altogther. It's simply a case of read the email and archive it - letting Google's powerful search functionality retrieve it at a later date, if required.

Bookmarks are handled by Google too - I tried a PHP/MySQL self-hosted solution, but found the UI to be too clunky and the project appeared to be abandoned. With bookmarks, I like the way that Google integrates it into the search results - so that you can instantly see those you've previously starred.

As for Calendar, I have a few entries - but have never been much of a user. The same can be said for Docs.

Then there's Reader. It's a slightly different story - I have 117 subscriptions and often stumble across another RSS feed to subscribe to. I find it an addiction, checking feeds several times a day to ensure I'm up-to-date on the latest.

I also have data in Google Analytics for 10 domains; 1 purchase using Google Checkout; Chrome is synced to my Google Account; Feedburner has burnt 5 of my feeds; and Web History has proved useful in the past - as a better alternative to a Browser's own History.

Then Google went and launched its own Social Network, Google+

I'll admit that I don't use it as much as twitter or facebook - I've found each serves its own purposes. I read somewhere that facebook is for keeping in touch with the people you know, but don't like and twitter is for following the people you don't know but do like. Something along those lines. There's some truth in that - depending on who you follow/are friends with. I find facebook a way of keeping up with people I know: what they're up to and twitter as a way of hearing about the latest before anyone else. Google+ has carved out its own sector - detailed, intelligent technical discussion. Perhaps it's because the majority of the users on there are geeks at the moment, but I find each post on my Stream to be worth reading - all signal, no noise - whereas twitter is more noise than signal, requiring effort to find the gems.

Google+ is here to stay and with more people joining each day, it'll soon rival twitter and facebook for market share.

Then Google went and released Google Music. It wasn't long ago that I was looking for a cloud based music provider, that I could store my 1000's of MP3's on to listen to whilst at work. Previously, I relied on FTP to my server at home, to grab albums I wanted - and then import them into iTunes. This isn't too bad, unless you consider how bad iTunes has become over the years - Apple surprises me with each update, as the software appears to be worsening. As soon as I saw a tweet asking if anyone wanted an invite - I jumped at the chance. During registration, I was told that the Beta was currently US only - but was pleased to find that it worked for me in the UK, using a UK ISP.

I have around 120GB of music on my server here, but after installing Google's Music manager app, to begin uploading MP3s to the service, I started ignoring the shite and picking out the best albums instead. It was refreshing to find that I only actually liked a small portion of the collection - 4374 songs to be precise. Uploading it didn't take long either, thanks to a 50MB down/5MB up Virgin Media connection. The downside is that work's Internet connection is ~4MB at best, shared amongst 25+ users - roughly 164KB each if you think about it. This equates to a stuttery experience, which has meant that I barely use the service. Still, at least I know my music is there, waiting to be played.

I probably use a few more services that Google offers, but the above is the majority of my Google time. However, today I realised that relying on one provider for so many services can be a problem.

Take, for example, the Google Translate API. We use the plugin to provide an easy interface into the API for Users to translate websites into their desired language. Google recently decided that people were abusing the API so much, that they are removing it completely by December 1st 2011. And it's not the only Google product to be axed.

Google recently announced that they're restructuring and focusing their priorities on 3 distinct areas of the business. Off the top of my head:

  • Search
  • Advertising
  • High traffice services

Search is a given, as it is the core of their business. Advertising is where most of their revenue comes from - which leaves the high traffice services. Anything that doesn't fit into these 3 key areas is being discontinued. APIs that 3rd party developers and businesses rely on; Services that many found essential in their daily lives; and Google Labs - the birthplace of many of these new ideas.

From a business point of view, it makes a lot of sense - they've spent years having fun, creating what they could and testing different markets with new services. But they've now decided to focus on what makes them money.

From a user's point of view, it's worrying. Each time I hear of a new round of cuts - I wonder if a service I count on is going to be discontinued. They've spent time switching the high traffic ones over to the new Google+ style interface, but haven't yet touched upon Bookmarks or Reader to name a few.

There's a saying - don't put all your eggs in one basket. I've pretty much done that with Google.

I recently closed my Yahoo, Flickr and Hotmail accounts - instead using Google Picasa and GMail as alternatives. Today I logged into GMail to find an email from Google Apps, to say that my account had been updated to support all of the non-Apps services. I had setup Google Apps when it was first opened to the public, with the intention being that I would use it for all email. However, I didn't like the idea of changing MX Records to point to Google, when GMail was still in its infancy - and the fact that I couldn't use all of Google's products with the same Apps account.

However, as part of the update, Google removed the association of my email from my account and placed it with the Google Apps account, without prompting me. After reading the email and realising the problem, I immediately signed into the Apps account and deleted it. The trouble is, the deletion process takes up to 5 days and I cannot re-associate my email to my account. It's a minor annoyance, but suggests the whole process and system is flakey - with so many services, Google has created a fragmented account/login solution, which they're only now trying to piece back together.

I'm confident I'll get it back to how I want it - no more stale Apps account, but a single account with my email associated with it.

Therein lies another problem - my address was setup in a rush as I wanted to use the invite and try out this new GMail thing. As my domain email was forwarded to it, I never really noticed it - until Google+ came along. Google doesn't offer a way of associating more than one address to another - one feature that hotmail/live does allow for. So if I do decide that I can no longer live with my current address, I'm stuck with having to manually export my data from each of the services that allow it and then import it into the new account. Not all services allow this though - Google+ being one of them.

Maybe this is all the result of Google developing lots of small projects and purchasing startups, without any uniform way of tying them altogether. Now they've realised that they have too many products and not enough focus to move forward - that they're starting to claw back and tighten up integration between each of the products.

I'm not against Google in anyway - I'd even go as far as saying I'm a fan. But I've come to realise that I shouldn't be relying on them for everything - even though their products are reliable, fast and intuitive. At least as a Web Developer, when the time comes - I can develop my own alternative(s).

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