Google Misses the Days Before Facebook and Apple Drank Its Milkshake

It seems like every time we turn around, Google's trying to convince everybody that they're the best and every other tech company is just the worst. And who can blame them?

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It seems like every time we turn around, Google's trying to convince everybody that they're the best and every other tech company is just the worst. And who can blame them? The search giant is fighting a losing battle to win the future from Apple and Facebook. How do we know that Google's losing? Because despite skyrocketing profits, Google's founders can't stop complaining.

Sergey Brin and Larry Page changed the world when they released Google's original search tool in 1998. But the world -- and especially the Internet -- has changed a lot since then. Brin, for one, doesn't like that one bit. In an exclusive interview with The Guardian on Sunday, Brin expressed deep-seated concern with Apple and Facebook who respectively represent the vanguard of the mobile and social Web. "[There are] very powerful forces that have lined up against the open internet on all sides and around the world," Brin told The Guardian's Ian Katz. "I am more worried than I have been in the past. It's scary." The problem basically boils down to these new companies operating in a different ecosystem that's not as Google-friendly as the Web. "There's a lot to be lost," Brin added. "For example, all the information in apps -- that data is not crawlable by web crawlers. You can't search it..." That's obviously a big bummer for Google, since if users can't search it, Google can't monetize it.

While we love to engage in the debate over the open Web, we don't really think that's what Brin is getting at. On the one hand, Brin deserves some credit for fighting back against censorship in China, since he led the effort to get Google to pull back their services there. On the other hand, Google isn't necessarily heroic simply because they advocate an open Web. It seems like a week can't go by without Google getting slapped with a new penalty from the Federal Communications Commission or the Federal Trade Commission for violating privacy, antitrust or some other laws. As it were, the FCC slapped Google with a fine on Saturday for obstructing an investigation into its Street View product.

One could say that Brin's gripes about the open Internet -- how Facebook and Apple are closing off everything that used to be so great about the Web -- is kind of a red herring. As Google grows, everybody knows that it gets a little more evil despite its famous mandate against just that. Even Brin's buddy Larry Page admitted as much a couple of weeks ago when he said, "We have always wanted Google to be a company that is deserving of great love," in a memo marking his one-year anniversary as CEO. "But we recognize this is an ambitious goal because most large companies are not well-loved, or even seemingly set up with that in mind." Doesn't this seem to suggest that Google was set up with this in mind?

You can give Page credit for admitting that Google isn't always the most lovable company. How humble! So where does the redemption come from? Innovation we hope. And over the past few months we've seen that Google isn't sitting idly by as Apple sells more iPhones and Facebook steals more eyeballs. Just before the holidays, the company let some details about their top secret research department, Google X, leak, and now new products are on the way. The first Google X gadget explicitly billed as such takes the idea of an open Internet straight into the physical world. If Google can't have an open web, it seems, they'll just make the whole world an open web. And what a world that could be:

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.