Via Dan Gillmor, we get a link to Dave Winer. I’m not a huge Dave Winer fan, with all that “I did this so you must credit me” crap for technology that is everywhere. We all know that Tim Berners-Lee came up with the web, but we don’t put his name next to every mention (“See our website; thanks to Tim Berners-Lee”). Dave essentially crabs about the same thing with RSS and podcasting (and don’t get me started on Adam Curry).
But, I’m off track. Dave is one of those people that, well, you either know about him or you don’t. He’s got his moments of stupendous annoyance and other moments, like today, where he has flashes of deep insight.
Dave’s target this time is a Silicon Valley behemoth that is forgetting how it got to where it is: Google.
Later this week Google will have their invite-only Zeitgeist conference. It’s as closed as a conference can be. And this is the company we lifted on our shoulders and held up as a shining example of the web at its best. We were wrong to do that, but forgive us for having hope. At some core level Google did understand the web, but there was also a lot about Google that was against the web, and now that’s most of what they are.
And he’s right. From email to IM to information retrieval to micropayments, Google has been telling everyone that they’ve been doing it wrong and Google now has the real answer. Is scanning books to make the searchable bad? No, of course not, but you need to have everyone’s buy in. Google has been making the rounds pissing off group after group with their projects. We, the technorati, laugh at the outmoded industries who succumb to Google’s Better Way, but what happens when they come for your work? What happens when you’re not in on the Way It’s Going To Be meeting? What happens when Google wants to do something radically different instead of just a little different?
We often ridicule Microsoft for being a soulless, stodgy company, a reputation that Microsoft has sent Bill Gates to overcome with his nerdy demeanor and the candor of a marketing VP. Google learned well from that, recruiting the elite from the Web to be their prophets; better a zealot than the cult leader to spread the word. But Google is no different than Microsoft; both are enormous machines that take what they want and apologize later. Both are drains on the local brain trust, an intellectual equivalent of dropping a Wal-Mart in the center of your town. Both are trusted with more information about you and me than we probably realize.
Now Google is starting down the path that feels, well, evil. Web 2.0 is the latest buzz word, the best explanation of which that I’ve heard goes like this: Web 1.0 was a monologue, Web 2.0 is a conversation. Blogs obviously fall here, but so does the Skype phenomenon, enterprise IM (??), and a bunch of other lofty ideas. Sound familiar? The Google Zeitgeist meeting, which is invite-only, happens soon. The Zeitgeist is bascially a list of what’s hot, based on Google searches and indexing. You and I make the Zeitgeist with our blogs and comments, links and photos. Web 2.0 is certainly on the Zeitgeist, but this meeting is closed to all but a select few: the Prophets. Our input is not welcome there, but our data is.
And so, as Dave puts it, “we follow them down into bad years”. It was bound to happen; you don’t flirt with a market value of $100 billion (with a b) and not let it go to your head. The real question is: What’s next? Where does Google go from here? They can’t remain the industry darling without new products or services. Search can only be that good for so long. Logic dictates that some time, probably very soon, someone will do search better. Many already do email better, many already do IM better. Google has ridden it’s name for a long time and the fare is coming due. Let’s hope it doesn’t get too bad.