If the Suspected Google Barge Turns Out to Be a Store, Who Won't Be Disappointed?

Where's that sad trombone sound when you need it?
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The Google barge in the San Francisco Bay (Reuters)

If you haven't been following the story, there are two very unusual barges sitting in the waters near San Francisco and Portland, Maine. They are the foundations for future shipping-container-constructed buildings. And Google is very likely behind at least the San Francisco ship, we know thanks to the expert sleuthing of CNET's Daniel Terdiman.

Since last week, when Terdiman broke the story, people have been guessing at what it might be. A floating data center, perhaps? Google does have a patent or such a thing. And this is Google we're talking about, so it was possible to let the imagination run wild. They could be doing anything out there! Perhaps it was a jetpack launching facility. Or they'd erect a biodome and resurrect wooly mammoths! At the very least, it seemed a fitting lair for co-founder Sergey Brin. He could finally parasail to work easily. 

But then today, the local San Francisco CBS affiliate reports that the barge will serve as a lux retail store to "market Google Glass and other gadgets to invitation-only clients."

Where's that sad trombone sound when you need it?

Oh, here it is:

This is the new Google, I guess. 

Not that retail stores can't be nice. Nice. I enjoy shopping at Apple, I guess. 

I used to think Google was different. But the giant retail barges symbolize how Google's considerable ambitions have become ever more tightly lashed to its commercial concerns.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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