The Google Monologues

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harveyHad a wonderful time at the Google Holiday Party the other night both because of and in spite of it being “off the record.” The ground rules created an atmosphere where Googlers could be more frank than they usually are (note irony here) and at the same time get to wall off portions of the media’s brains from talking about what they said. These moments feel a lot like the Washington senior official scenario, where quotes emanate from thinly disguised “spokespersons” which are in reality the actual “persons.”

In any case, I won’t reveal what was said by Googlers because I want to be invited back next year. Also because they didn’t say anything that contradicts anything they’ve said publicly or that I’ve made up out of whole cloth. In fact, what I can talk about is what I said. Here’s a digest of that stream:

It seems that the WebOS contest for the hearts and minds for developers is settling out as one between ChromeOS and Silverlight. In my mind, ChromeOS is Chrome, and now that it’s on the Mac I care. Chrome therefore subsumes FireFox, Safari, and eventually Android, regardless of what has been said about the difficulty (or not) of having one OS span the desktop and mobile devices. I can’t tell you when Googlers will release Chrome Extensions but a spokesperson pointed out Google has publicly stated the project is open source, which suggests you could look up the answer to this and many questions. Indeed MG has made a career out of doing this.

So when Extensions ship, I will move off of Firefox within minutes, not because I have any extensions other than PowerTwitter but because I wait for enough stability and market force to make moving a conservative bet. And the main thing I’m waiting for above all else is Silverlight compatibility. I can’t say what Googlers said about this, but my thought is that if they can support the crap Adobe AIR hairball, they can support Silverlight. My bet is they will or already do.

I can’t say what Googlers said about HTML 5, but I said it would take 2 or 3 years before it got close to production, that in the meantime Apple and YouTube were forcing a standard around H.264, that Moonlight decompiling strategies coupled with the Silverlight to iPhone bridge demoed (almost) at PDC will provide a sufficient porting path to normalize the difference between iPhone and Android development, and that whatever the (n)on-existent Google phone looks like, it will produce a 2-horse market within a year. I can’t say how Googlers responded to my theory, but if someone were to use this as an argument for the iPhone being in trouble they’d be wrong.

That’s because (as I told the Googlers) nothing about Android or the nPhone mandates that Apple will stand still. Indeed, a strong Google phone or tablet or both frees Apple to ride right through the hole created by competition and drive the carriers further into a reactive postion. You can already see this happening as Apple approves Ustream, Qik, and even downstream video recording apps in swift succession. Once Verizon is filleted by either Google or Apple or both later this new year, it’s a battle for infrastructure to support the new Kindleized mobile marketplace, with the dueling AppStores providing DisneyBucks (Admobs or something like it) as payola for chart position. I kid the old record companies because they’re dead.

Speaking of the Kindle, it’s instructive to note how the book companies are trying the same stall that ultimately killed the record cartel, slowing down the release of some e-titles until they’ve milked the airport crowd. Meanwhile, Comcast is within minutes if not already releasing its on-demand access to premium content, and Netflix over Silverlight is spurring MacMini sales hooked up to sub-$700 1080 HD screens. We’re in mop up mode here, and the less-is-more design model of matching the quality of content with delivery mechanism is tipping the marketplace from downloading to streaming and built-in to bluetooth. As I told the Googlers, the marketplace won’t wait for HTML5, so HTML5 will have to come to them. I can’t say …

As the evening wound down, I talked with several Googlers about data portability and the Google stranglehold in search. I can’t say what they said, but I said I’m not worried about storing all my data in Gmail because it’s a lot safer than on my hardrive or not backed up as it always turns out to be. As to the Facebook issues regarding privacy and the difficulty of protecting digital breadcrumbs from winding up in someone’s unintended stuffing, I doubt the ability to constrain the leaking of private data and instead suggested Google would eventually be held responsible for surfacing inappropriate data at the top of its searches. In fact, what I am looking for are self-service tools that let me submit requests for redacting search results around the publishing of private data.

I can’t say what the Googlers think, but my bet is that this counter filtering will produce a new responsibility for data vendors, placing the onus on the search publishers to be responsible for what private data is made widely available when the appropriate IP owners (parents and individuals) have registered a social DMCA notice. As I told the Googlers, users (us) don’t care where the data is actually stored, only how it is being published and to who. I also predicted this technology will become a valuable part of competitive search offerings.

Perhaps the Googlers will surface some of their opinions on these subjects in the coming days, but even if they remain to be mined from open source archives the general thrust of the conversation is moving forward inevitably, beyond closed v. open and toward a pragmatic mix of both worlds. That’s why Silverlight is so viral in its evolution, moving in the past few months from a radical challenge to a conservative fundamental. Just as with ChromeOS, we still hear caveats and shadings about the disruptive qualities of these WebOS strategies, but simultaneously the boundaries between these two seemingly different paradigms are blurring to the point of disappearing.

The social layer is now the unifying driver of both platforms, and those industries, whether enterprise, media, or mobile, are being pushed into a single fabric. The realtime feedback loop retrieves gestures of interest and lack of it to the filtering server where it is compared to others with similar affinities and discounts applied based on the likelihood of accepting those offers. This builds on the Google Adsense model and its economies of scale around advertiser volume, but the social graph produces rich hubs of affinity which produce greater return. Swarm ranking trumps broader audiences when the tools to harvest more implicit affinities are available directly to the producers of the new products made viable.

But that’s just what I said. The other side of the conversation was at least as interesting. For now, this will have to be like one of Bob Newhart’s famous phone monologues, where you only hear Bob’s side of the call. Like the famous 8 foot invisible rabbit Harvey, after awhile you start to see and hear him just fine, thank you.

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