Google's Slip-pery Slope - InformationWeek

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Commentary
3/7/2006
01:28 PM
Tom Smith
Tom Smith
Commentary
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Google's Slip-pery Slope

Google in many ways has positioned itself as the industry's anti-Microsoft. Since its inception, it hasn't been given to preannouncing products or features years in advance, then watching as the starstruck masses hung on every move related to those (oft-delayed) products. Its corporate credo of "Don't Be Evil" comes off as the antithesis to the evil empire in Redmond (though recent events in China raise questions

Google in many ways has positioned itself as the industry's anti-Microsoft. Since its inception, it hasn't been given to preannouncing products or features years in advance, then watching as the starstruck masses hung on every move related to those (oft-delayed) products. Its corporate credo of "Don't Be Evil" comes off as the antithesis to the evil empire in Redmond (though recent events in China raise questions on how closely Google is hewing to its self-imposed mandate).In the recent push to be all things to all users and gain massive scale, Google may be relaxing some of these principles.

It was reported today that the company had mistakenly released online documents about a potential online storage service referred to as GDrive. "With infinite storage, we can house all user files, including E-mails, Web history, pictures, bookmarks, etc., and make it accessible from anywhere (any device, any platform, etc.)," said the notes from a presentation that was removed from the company Web site after the usual pack of bloggers circulated them.

A Microsoft-like explanation was offered by a Google spokeswoman, who declined to comment on any specific service but confirmed that a presentation containing the notes had been mistakenly released on the Web, adding "We have nothing to announce at this time."

In reality, the announcement--or, more likely, trial balloon--has already been launched. It was strikingly similar to a slip in February, when Microsoft mistakenly posted a Web page listing a variety of Vista versions, then later explained: "This page has since been removed as it was posted prematurely and was for testing purposes only."

These incidents seem less a case of mistaken Web posting and more an orchestrated effort to gauge user and customer feedback. In Google's case, perhaps it wanted to find out if GDrive--and the specter of the company having access to more of individuals' data--would create anything like the privacy debate that accompanied the recent Google Desktop announcement.

For years, Microsoft has gotten loads of mileage and visibility from these types of tactics. But Google was supposed to be different. Perhaps it's just poor public relations and marketing management--following closely on the CFO's disastrous comments about an expected slowdown in the company's growth rate--or perhaps Google is finding that to compete against the likes of Microsoft, it must adopt some of the business practices it has found so distasteful in the past.

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