Friday, May 21, 2010

Google I/O 2010: Stepping Stones to The Second Web

There was plenty of whooping and clapping at the Google I/O 2010 developers conference in San Francisco this week as Google rolled out new and promised features for their expanding stable of content technologies. Much of the excitement, though, had been pretty much pre-empted by strong educated guesses as to what would be unveiled. An abbreviated list of key announcements should include:
  • The launch of Google Wave as a Google Labs "experiment" (read: beta) for anyone with a Google Accounts login and announcement of enterprise software partners for Wave
  • The announcement of the Chrome Web Store, a Web site that will enable the download of free and premium browser-based software that can run in any modern browser (but that integrates most nicely into Google's own Chrome browser with drag-and drop app icons)
  • Enterprise- and media-ready cloud computing resources, including App Engine for BusinessGoogle Storage for Developers, BigQuery massive data analysis, Prediction API data pattern prediction processing
  • Support for the VP8 video processing codec as an open Web standard that will be applied to all of YouTube's videos and supported by Adobe
  • A preview of Google's TV offerings with partners Sony, Logitech, Intel and Dish TV, which include an Android-based settop box that enables sophisticated combined searching of broadcast and Web videos
  • The unveiling of the forthcoming Version 2.2 of the Android operating system (Froyo), with accelerated Web app performance and features, "tethering" of Web connectivity via WiFi and more automated syncing of data and apps from the Web
  • Support for accelerated Web applications performance
  • Voice-to-audio phrase translation
  • Free browser-based open source fonts
  • Improved integration of display ads into mobile devices and AJAX-based Web services
Well, that's a pretty well-packed couple of days of keynotes and workshops, but what does it all mean? With the exception of Google's TV moves, most of these announcements are incremental improvements to what is amounting to a full-scale defense by Google of the Web as the main vehicle for all enterprise and media content. With an explosion of mobile and in-home electronics, communications channels and content packaging schemes, a Web based on universal search and standardized content and applications has been in danger of being upstaged by any number of proprietary technology plays. 

Google is focusing on knocking down the barriers between platforms via supporting Web browser-oriented standards such as HTML 5 aggressively and by enabling inter-device connectivity wherever possible. For example, one of the niftier "gee whiz" demos was showing off how you can use an Android-based phone to search by voice for television shows that can appear via Google TV on your home TV screen, where you can choose from high-definition television shows running from the Web, your DVR recorder or a premium television service. A couch potato's dream, to be sure, made possible cost-effectively via Android open source code and Web standards. 

Another somewhat surprising demo was by Sports Illustrated, which showed off an interactive online magazine based completely in HTML 5, complete with embedded videos that you can drag and drop with a finger touch. The SI exec was positively beaming about open Web standards as the future of publishing - quite a different tune than what they were singing at the Apple demos a few weeks ago. Games running as browser-based applications were also featured prominently as examples of functionality that Google's optimization of browser-based computing via cloud computing and improved programming performance within its own browsers will facilitate.

None of this will change publishing altogether today, tomorrow or even several months from now, but in sum it means that Google is edging us towards the era of The Second Web, in which text, video, software applications and voice communications flow seamlessly to and from any imaginable device in endlessly intertwined and tailored streams. Artificial barriers to content distribution and combination are coming crashing down as never before, but they are giving way to a new framework for content monetization in The Second Web that will be scaled to help all kinds of publishers to prosper - if they are willing to subject their content to the all-seeing eye of Google infrastructure. Do it privately in your own Google enterprise cloud if you must, but at some point your content is coming out of that cloud to communicate or collaborate with the world. When it does, Google will be waiting for you.

If you want to render slick Web content with high-performance software and video embedded into it, Google says, sure, why not. If you want to focus on massively scaled enterprise applications that require tight security and service level agreements, Google says, sure, why not. If you want to use your own hardware or hosting, Google says, sure, why not. Because Google is interested primarily in one thing and one thing alone: generating as much Web-based content as possible that can be searched, analyzed and packaged somewhere by someone - preferably by Google, but not always. 

Publishing is a numbers game, but Google does the math differently than most other publishers, betting that the company that can deal most effectively with the largest array of content sources - regardless of who creates them and where and how they sell them - can win. Think of it as the Wal-Mart model turned inside-out. You don't draw the world to the big-box store, you make the world your box and pull out what's most interesting to specific people at specific times. This was underscored particularly in Google's approach to its forthcoming Chrome Web Store, which will feature apps built on both Google infrastructure and other browser-compatible apps, and in its approach to video search, which apparently will begin to incorporate video from across the Web in addition to YouTube content.

There were a lot of shoes dropped at this year's Google I/O event, but there are many more yet to fall. Google Editions' launch this summer will make for some exciting news, as will the launch of Android and Chrome OS-based tablet devices and the debut of expanded Google Voice and videoconferencing tools. These will be further steps forward towards The Second Web, but for now they will be advancing on the stepping stones of the major infrastructure pieces that Google has put in place to get people beating a path towards it. By mid-2011, between Google and others who are accelerating the development of Web-based content and applications we'll wonder what publishers and communications companies were thinking for the past fifteen years. The Web was always going to win. Google just gave it a good, hard kick.
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