Has Chrome Pushed Google over the Evil Edge?

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-12-31 Print this article Print

I promised to delve into

predictions for 2009 made by Google Operating System's Alex Chitu.

Some of them are a little geeky and obscure for my taste, but Chitu has a couple that stand out to me. One real quick: He predicts that Google's search guru Marissa Mayer will leave, which is timely considering ValleyWag's Owen Thomas furthered the rumor last night.

The most important is this gem: "Google's efforts to promote Chrome will change people's perception about Google, which will be increasingly associated with Microsoft."

He's right, but we're already there. I wrote yesterday, Dec. 30, that Google is infiltrating Gmail and other Google Web services with Chrome buttons, but the marketing is just icing on the sleaze factor.

Just the emergence of Chrome in September was a shock to the system for many people who thought they knew Google cold. Until Chrome, some people still believed that Google really, really still meant not to do evil.

One problem, though. It's hard to be the overwhelming leader in search and not be considered a monopolist, which in business is code for "evil." It's impossible to be that powerhouse, then launch a Web browser to serve as the gateway to your Web services and not be considered blackly evil.

As Chitu alludes to, Microsoft's desktop dominance, originating with Windows and extending with Internet Explorer, both bundled on the majority of the world's PCs, made the browser one of those keys to the software kingdom.

If you have a browser, you wield a great deal of influence over the Internet software market. This is because browsers, like search, attract users.

Browser makers can market other Web services in them, put extensions in them, cut deals with OEMs and other software makers, and tie them to search platforms. Browsers = control. Google + search + Chrome = the ultimate control.

Don't take it from me. I spoke with Alex Iskold, founder and CEO of AdaptiveBlue, a semantic Web software company that is doing some important work on making Web browsers more contextually relevant for users. Iskold told me:

When Google launched Chrome, I was very surprised that they did it because for the longest time, they claimed that the browser didn't matter to them. This is a complete, 180 degree turn. They were funding Firefox all this time and it was like their baby to keep the battle going and then suddenly they're doing a 180 degree turn. So to me this means a couple of things. One is that their whole search play is based on their home page and they're really scared. If somebody starts eating up into that home page. Someone like Microsoft with a default search engine with Live Search. I think they're very scared of that. The second thing is, I think they realize that in order for you to be Web-like, you need to own the browser. That's the other dirty secret. They'll tell everyone that our 'AdSense is a platform' but this makes no money for anybody. People stick it on their blogs, but how much money are they making?

There is great method to Iskold's rant. He added that Google can use its analysis algorithms to serve ads or some other contextual suggestion to users through Chrome. To get an idea of contextual technologies Google might turn on in Chrome, read this excellent piece Iskold posted to ReadWriteWeb Dec. 22.

For example, you might have blog plug-ins offering a contextual experience via preview technologies, or widgets that offer contextual shortcuts. Examples of this technology include Yahoo Shortcuts and AdaptiveBlue's SmartLinks.

Such technologies can only increase the stickiness of Chrome for its users, meaning Google will be in position to serve more ads to users. Imagine if Google could duplicate the ad-serving success of search on Chrome. That would be stunning, helping Google extend its lead over Web services at the expense of Microsoft, Yahoo and other rivals.

In short, Iskold and I agree that Google's creation of Chrome means the company has jumped the shark of innocence. Rail about the Google.org philanthropic unit all you want, but I think Chrome exposed Google for the power-hungry machine many of us knew it was. Chrome effectively put Google in Microsoft's league, just on the Web instead of the desktop.

Perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps Google became evil when it claimed more than 50 percent of the world's searches. What do you think? When did Google become evil to you?

By the way, this is my last post to Google Watch for 2008. Happy New Year!

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