One of Google's own, Chief Internet Evangalist (and Internet inventor) Vint Cerf, has joined the growing chorus of voices warning of the possible end to Google's dominance. "There's nothing to stop someone from developing better technology than we have and to invent something even more powerful and efficient and effective," Cerf said speaking at the National Media Museum. "Which, of course, scares us," he continued. Sure, that's not exactly as definitive as Mat Honan's take over at Gizmodo, where he declared the end of the once-dominant search giant in his "Case Against Google," but Honan doesn't work at Google.
Cerf hasn't totally given up on Google's ability to adapt. He thinks this fear will drive the company further ahead. "It means we run as fast as we can to develop better tools for search in order to try to stay ahead of the game," he continued. But, of course, that's what the Chief Internet Evangelist would say. More importantly, he's admitting that there's fear within the company and not everyone inside the Googleplex agrees that fear is pushing the company in the right directions. Remember that Google engineer, who wrote a big long blog post about why he quit? He mentioned a bad kind of fear: the fear of social. "It turns out that there was one place where the Google innovation machine faltered and that one place mattered a lot: competing with Facebook," wrote James Whittaker on his new Microsoft developer blog.
Just as Cerf says, this stress has caused Google to try and "develop better tools... in order to try and stay ahead of the game." But trying is different than succeeding. Looking at all the privacy concerns, lawsuits and general user outrage from these "innovations" it doesn't feel like Google has had much success. Gizmodo's Honan, on the other hand, believes this very fear is the origin of Google's problem. "It is too much focused on the future, and conversely too scared of current competition," he writes. The fear of Facebook, for example, has pushed it into created Google+, which has caused all sorts of outrage because of the way it has compromised beloved search. "It has degraded its premier product in service of promoting others. It has done devious things to ferret out information from its users that they do not willingly provide," he continues. It has done "devious things" that a company like Yahoo would do.
Though the social space is clearly a point of weakness for Google, the real fear is that Google has to alienate users to grow, explains Honan. "Google wants to know things about you that you aren't already telling it so you will continue asking it questions and it can continue serving ads against the questions you ask it," he writes. "So, it feels like it has to herd people into using Google+ whether they want to go there or not." Google wants more user data. But we've reached a point where we don't want to give it up to them anymore.
These moves have yet to push Google into a Yahoo-sized mess. And, maybe Cerf's right: at some point, the fear will spur the right kind of innovation. "The case against Google is for the first time starting to outweigh the case for it," believes Honan. And, unlike during the early Internet days, it's no longer so hard to leave. The Atlantic Wire's Adam Clark Estes has already outlined easy ways to live a Google free life. As Google demands more from us, people may begin to decide that that's exactly what they want to do.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.