Wednesday, April 13, 2005

My Top 5 Wishes for Google

Google announced its IPO on August 18th, 2004. After a flurry of market buzz the company landed a considerable amount of capital and the founders became billionaires. What's more impressive is the "hippness" of this new Internet darling in its ability to attract some of the best and brightest talent in the software biz as a result of either this great IPO or simply having some very novel approaches to software architecture and design. Google built the best search engine possible before the IPO and now, with all this new talent and capital, what have they accomplished since? Below is a quick paraphrasing of some of the Google press releases since August 18th, 2004:
  • A limited desktop search tool (see Wish #1 below)
  • Acquisition of a satellite mapping company, then later deployment of a mapping site.
  • Improvements to discussion groups.
  • Printed book searching.
  • Photo sharing.
  • TV caption search.
  • Searches from mobile phones.
Interesting as some of these announcements are they all suggest an incremental backfilling of the existing portfolio offering modest changes to the status quo of search technology. In fact, most, if not all of these services have been available on the Internet before (some for many years) with Google offering barely little to differentiate. Granted, this may help float the ad rotation business I can't see a lot of innovation in this technology other than consolidation which, on the Internet, does not create much of a delta. I will admit that I probably have a naive view of Google's business but what I am most concerned about is its technology. Where is the next big thing? What exciting and risky ventures will Google undertake in the IPO afterglow? From my perspective there seems to be a dearth of grand new ideas in the current software market so shouldn't a cash heavy, self proclaimed innovation based company such as Google lead the way? In the seeming absence of new ideas from the Google press releases I took a moment to jot down my own thoughts on some suggested avenues for Google innovation. Below are my top five wishes (plus one extra credit wish):

1. Beat Spotlight. This new search technology from Apple is not only right up Google's alley it is nearly it's raison d'etre. Google desktop search is a stab but falls way short. Specifically, smart folders, easy application integration (not just addin's for new document type indexing but an SDK for quickly adding a simple search bar to apps, a Windows standard control even), and prepackaged addin's for popular app.s like MS Office.

2. Consolidate your services. Why do I have to go to separate search pages to utilize all of Google's services? Excuse me if this already exists (seems so natural that it would) but it would be great if we could embed some "service protocol" marker (other than just "stocks" and "define") in the query so that I can search anything from groups, to news, to maps from the same entryfield (hacking up an URL is not an option especially for end users). This feature shines even more if this "grand unified entryfield" is built into applications using the SDK from #1.

3. Explore collaborative filtering. O.K., time to start flexing those research muscles and make use of the mountain of user data that I'm sure Google is collecting. What we are after is not just a suggestion of a replacement for a misspelled word but actual suggestions of Internet destinations based on a statistical model formed by millions of users typing in search terms then clicking on their destination. I could be going out on a limb but it seems to me that without changing the overall user experience Google could easily track which search words could be connected to which web sites (you know the user has found their site when they stop repeating the search... don't you?). Given the amazing corpus of data at the algorithm's fingertips I'm sure this could produce some very exciting results.

4. Be the common repository. How many people have to write their own "GMail Drive Shell Extension" for the lightbulb to go on? Instead of me saying to my workmate, "hey, I'll send you that file in e-mail" or "I'll post my vacation photos on photo sharing site X so you can see them" why not just say "I'll copy the files to the G: drive"? Of course, "G: drive" is the standard shell extension that gives everyone in the world another drive on their computer for storing / transferring files that uses the Google file system. Toss in a little per-user directory security and you've now got a generalized approach to many problems being solved in many different ways on the Internet.

5. Build the rich client. By this I don't necessarily mean create yet another browser. Why not build the "best of breed" tool for writing robust web based applications? For example, what if I wanted to write Google Maps? What array of tools would I need? Are these tools specifically suited to build this type of app. or am I twisting them someway to get the job done? What sort of hosted services do I need to make this happen? Today, the answers to these questions involve the use of several flavors of technology and service providers which will daunt most web developers. The panacea is to install a single environment that has some knowledge of the Google host, an innate understanding of DHTML, XML, and JavaScript, as well as deployment capability. If such an environment were cheap and easy to acquire one could imagine a great leap in the consumption of Google's services.

Extra Credit (for the innovation "monster"):

6. Be the Standard Application Service. Microsoft has been yammering about this for years. It's hot and cold running software. I no longer want to buy shrink wrap boxes for a fixed price plus some potential upgrade fee down the track with obligatory updates coming from some "other" place that I need to find. Instead I want to pay a nominal fee up front for just the applications that I need with an option to add more applications as I need them. Included in the deal are constant updates and potentially some community features built around the applications. For example, I get a new PC. I log on to Google because I need to design a presentation and don't have any presentation software. I click on PowerPoint (good luck) or the best offering from Open Office. I enter my credit card info and get charged some low amount (say $10) and some great P2G (peer to Google) exchange takes place after which I have the package automatically installed. I "pay as I go" the more I use the application or add others. The application is automatically updated as needed. Like my phone bill I pay my software bill each month. I would prefer this approach to software use (as I believe many others) and it may even be more profitable for software companies in the long run.

There you have it. I'd be happy if any of these wishes came true and who knows, if they did come true the street may also cast a bit of love Google's way.