Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Google Health, Google Apps API Opens Up: Building More Content in the Cloud

The launch of the beta for Google Health
caught a bit of media ripple last week, but with the never-ending machinations between Microsoft and Yahoo I suspect that it got lost in the shuffle by some. That's probably just as well, given the hyping of last year's big health launches, some of which have gone on to greater glory and others of which are back at the drawing board. Revolution Health has been an enormously successful media launch, for example, closing in rapidly on well-established leader WebMD's visitor count in little more than a year, while Microsoft's heavy-handed HealthVault did a great job of collecting and touting major health care partners but also did an equally good job of scaring away people who felt uncertain how improving corporate productivity was in their personal best interests.

Google Health plies a middle ground of sorts between these two major efforts, focusing on relating expert content and online media to someone's personal medical history. Like other services Google enables the import of health information from a select list of hospitals and medical testing companies and can find information that relates to known symptoms as well as search for doctors in a given specialty in a particular location. As you can see in the expandable screen grab to the right it's a typically low-key approach from Google. It doesn't present itself terribly differently from any other Google application, explains the user benefits simply right up front and encourages one to explore its capabilities gently and incrementally well within a user's control.

In some ways Google has benefited from the relatively slow start to online medical records gathering by Microsoft, even if it's been a little snookered by Revolution Health's aggressive grab of media attention. An MIT Technology Review article makes it clear that Google is working
with its limited list of partners to understand what it will take to make people feel comfortable with entering and maintaining their health care information online. Terms and conditions make it clear to the user in the part that's appearing in the scrolling window that their information is theirs to control, so perhaps there's reason to hope. Starting with the approach that there's much to learn about what makes people comfortable with this particular kind of online personal data is probably a good approach, allowing Google to add features and content gradually.

In the meantime Google has also opened up its Google Apps APIs to developers, enabling anyone to use the highly scalable Google infrastructure to develop online applications that stand on their own or integrate with Google capabilities. WIth more that 150,000 developers already queued up to use the Google APIs we may be witnessing the beginning of the Google cloud beginning to subsume large portions of the online application development space. Combined with enhanced Andriod functionality for its mobile platform and the introduction of Google Gears, a desktop (and, presumably, mobile) client that will enable one to store data from the Web locally, it's clear that there's less and less space for Microsoft to lay claim to the personal content that's at the heart of its claim to personal computing. If the Web can lay claim as the primary repository for all of our content, with some items spun off to our local devices as needed, then Microsoft will continue to find itself positioned increasingly as a facilitator of appliance interfaces -a positioning underscored by Microsoft's announcement of a finger-friendly Windows 7 due to ship in...2010.

So on both the Google Health front and the Google Apps API front Google is continuing to position itself for prowess within the content cloud, building up relationships that will quietly unfold on a myriad of devices through a myriad of applications all developed on and stored in Google's powerful server and operating system infrastructure. It's not a media strategy by many people's estimates, much less an enterprise content strategy, but as these clouds begin to gather steam through the next few years prepare to be amazed yet again at the power of Google to keep focused on long-term objectives for delivering value through publishing that continue to amaze.
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