Note from October 2014: Google Me was the precursor to Google+.
With the latest discussion surrounding the end of the web, and now the end of the telephone number, I returned to speculating about the shape of Google Me and the future of the Internet. I still believe that the way Google Me will be used will eventually be that of a content generator, rather than a platform to share content. The larger structure of Google Me, however, will be based upon an idea they presented for Google Wave, the Google Wave Federation Protocol.
Google Me will most likely consist of two parts: a central server for the common good (a la Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, etc), and also a decentralized, installable server that can host private networks for companies or Universities. These decentralized networks will be able to connect to each other through the various privacy settings, and other means of communication control. This will give the critics of Facebook the complete control over their privacy settings, while also enabling them to create tighter restrictions on how available their information is to the public.
Jeff Jarvis, author of What Would Google Do, has a recurring idea that he brings up during the discussion on This Week in Google and his blog, BuzzMachine. His idea is that there are different kinds of publics. We have our private public through Facebook, our Internet public through Google search, and so on. In his latest book, Private Parts, he will argue that we need to be more public with our thoughts and ideas. The way to create both our private publics and the public publics is through the combination of the decentralized and centralized servers. The benefits of this approach for the users will be immense – able to connect with people like yourself easily, protecting yourself from the spam of unwanted users effectively, getting away from the competition aspect of social media (how many friends/followers) and focusing on the real connections.
But why would Google want to create Google Me in this way?
In the current public forum, they have presented ideas on how to duplicate the control we have over our social relationships. Gina Trapani (former LifeHacker editor, also a contributor to TWiG) has a post explaining a Google presentation given by Paul Adams titled, “The Real Life Social Network.” The full presentation is an awesome glimpse into how poorly our current network of connections is controlled. We have too many weak connections, not enough strong ones, and too much overlap with conversations. Separating out the groups into niche networks will be the first of many steps of control to focus in on the relationships that matter, making the experience that much better for us.
Creating better networks for the users is a great idea with a potentially dangerous side effect. The side effect of creating niche networks is discovering how Google could make money from this venture. The obvious answer is the target advertising that Google is so good at, but another answer that isn’t so obvious is actually an old one.
In an article by Sebastian Mallaby for Atlantic Monthly, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Ending Poverty, he mentions a historical case about the town of Lübeck. The town is conquered by Henry the Lion in the 12th century, and he wishes to transform the town into a mecca for merchants. He created a charter that changed the governing laws of Lübeck to make it more appealing to the merchants, giving them more control over their situation. Not only did it work for that one town, but it ended up being copied throughout the region. Google has a similar opportunity with Google Me to entice corporations to make a serious effort in capitalizing on the smaller networks.
The charter for the modern day company to get them locked into Google Me could look like this:
Acme Company is a maker of anvils, and wants to discover who the real people are behind all the purchases of anvils within the country. Google approaches them and says, “Come set up a network for Google Me users who buy anvils.” Acme sets up the network, complete with their online store for people to easily buy from, and invites users to network and find new ways to use their anvils. In return for all this creating and marketing, Google offers Acme a package that shows them the analytics of the network: how many people are visiting the main Anvil page, what links they clicked, and what else the members of the Anvil network were doing on the other networks. That information leads to partnerships with other companies for further niche networks, expansion of companies to serve other needs, or package the information and resell it.
Another option is for Google to create the Anvil network themselves, and then have companies such as Acme make bids for product placement. Perhaps, at the Bronze Level, one out of every 3 new users gets the Acme company as a default network connection, gets their advertisements shown more prominently than lower levels, etc. Google wins from all of these scenarios, because the collect more data on the people who use the networks, sending them even further targeted advertisements through their browsers or mobile phones. And Google possess all the tools to make this happen, through their work on Wave, AdSense, Analytics, Android OS, and their recent mobile ad platform purchases.
All this means that the future of the Internet is a return to what the Internet originally was: a connection of networks. General web pages, like this one, that broadcast to everyone and no one at the same time will be gone. Instead, we will broadcast to the niche(s) of our choosing. We will digest information from our local groups and be much more focused as individuals. The need for information will wane as we get comfortable within our own boundaries again, and we won’t find ourselves deafened by the noise of the various streams of social media. Instead, the information we take in will be items that are mainly relevant to our own interests.
The future of the Internet could also be a very corporate world if precautions aren’t taken. We will all need to understand the underlying architecture of Google Me to protect ourselves from the companies that control them, and to allow ourselves the ability to create our own networks on our terms. As Douglas Rushkoff says in the title of his new book, we have to Program or Be Programmed.