The deep reach of Google

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Google has ceased to be a search company years ago. It is now an advertising agency, a “bank” a app hosting, email and intranet provider, with their own office suite. The list goes on, but what it all boils down to is this: Google is a web company.

Everything Google does depends on the success of the web. Not just the internet as an infrastructure for connecting devices transparently, but the true world wide web, where everything happens online, in “The Cloud” and preferably on Google’s servers. The success of Google is inextricably tied to the success of the web. The more people do their business on the web, through their browsers, the more they will end up consuming Google’s services (provided Facebook does not beat them to it). It is therefore in Google’s best interest to do everything in their power to make that web experience as pleasant as possible. It might seem that “side projects” like Chrome, Android and Chromium OS are a distraction from this, but I think they are really clever pawns in Google’s game.

Google is basically taking Apple’s game of vertical integration and using it to shape the playing field. Google does not care about Chrome, they just want browsers to be better. Google does not need to sell Android, they just want everyone to have a smart phone in their pocket that makes it easy to use Google’s services. Add Android tablets and Chromebooks to the family and Google controls a pretty large chunk of the channels people use to go online. By providing alternatives like Android and Chrome, Google is indirectly shaping the direction of their competitors. However, over the past year, I have come to believe there is more.

In May 2010, Google introduced the WebM video format, after buying the company that developed its technology. Chrome was the first browser to support the format natively and YouTube, the biggest player in online video, was going to use it to replace Flash video. WebM also came with a sister: WebP, for pictures.
A year later, WebP is actively used in Google services like GMail and Picasa, as long as they are visited with a browser that supports them.

A while ago, Google published a whitepaper on SPDY: an experimental protocol for a faster web. Shortly thereafter, it turned out that Google had done more: they had not just done the thinking, they had done the sweating as well; SPDY was already implemented in Chrome and used in the communication with Google services like GMail.

By controlling the path from the user to the browser, Google is able to quickly adopt new technologies and standards that improve the performance and user experience of the web. Defining a new de-facto standard for common things like video and pictures is one thing, but getting it accepted is something totally different. Just look at the pervasiveness of PNG after years of JPEG and GIF dominance. SPDY requires just minor modifications of client and server, but there is huge inertia in implementing server support when there are no clients and vice versa.

Google has put their fingers deep into the pie of everything that connects to the web and it is using its influence to strong-arm changes into the ecosystem that would otherwise take decades of RFCs and committees. Google wants 3D support for the web, their browser gets WebGL support (and the rest follows). Google wants people to use more web apps, they introduce Chrome Web Store. By eating their own dog food, they create the initial momentum that can get these things going much faster than normally possible; to their benefit.

As Google grows bigger and more powerful, we can only guess what their impact will be on the shape of our future web. They have amassed a pretty broad arsenal of influence, so whether they choose to go after telephony with Android, Google Voice and Wimax, or use the Chromebook to redefine the way we buy computers.

After reading this article about the inadequacy of TCP over 3G, I hope they will use Android to push a new protocol stack for mobile connectivity. Get to work Google :)

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