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Is Google still worth our love, or has it become another selfish corporation?

Larry Page, Google+, and “Your World”

That brings us to about 2011. Google was hugely successful and one of the largest companies in the world. In April 2011, CEO Eric Schmidt stepped down for no announced reason and handed over the reigns to co-founder Larry Page. Oddly, he doesn’t seem to be on the same Page with the statements he made when Google went public in 2004. Though it wasn’t apparent at first, this management shift seems to have changed Google. In an effort to put “more wood behind fewer arrows” Page shut down Google Labs, killed off dozens of projects and services, eliminated many APIs, and told all employees that bonuses for 2011 would be entirely dependent on how successful Google was with its upcoming social network: Google+. But that was only the beginning.

google_plusThe launch of Google’s new social network — a mashup of Facebook and Twitter — came in June and seems to have triggered a cascade of changes in the company. Page has ordered all of Google’s wayward services to be stitched together and tied to Google+, whether the integration makes complete sense or not. All Google pages now have that notification bar and Google has been constantly revamping its top navigation to try and make all of its services more social. Google+ has begun taking precedence above all else.

Websites and news authors have been pressured to sign up for Google+ accounts so that they are best represented on Google’s search engine. Though Google was built on the idea of unbiased, impartial search, in late 2011, the company has now rolled out “Search + Your World,” an augmented set of search results that include Google+ posts and profiles. While a good idea on paper, the actual results being returned are often less accurate than the typical 10 blue links that Google used to deliver. In my own experience, Google frequently delivers me links to my own Google+ posts and irrelevant content from other G+ users above its own much more relevant and accurate Web links.

The other big problem with “Your World” is that it isn’t; It’s only your Google+ world, assuming you use Google+ at all. While Google used to pull public information from other social networks, it has ended this practice. Prior to the launch of “Search + Your World,” Google ended a major data deal with Twitter, whose executives characterized (in a tweet) the launch of the new service as a “bad day for the Internet” and a “warped” new form of search.

Google representatives have said that these social networks are hiding data from Google, but engineers from Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace have already released a Chrome plugin that allowed Facebook and Twitter results to rejoin Google search. Honestly, the plugin seems to work better than Google’s efforts.

Back in 2004, Larry Page talked about Google being ‘good’ and improving the world, but now, instead of making the world better, he seems to have redefined ‘world’ to mean Google. Google’s mission seems to be to make Google+ and other Google services more popular or bring in more revenue.

Android, Motorola, and provocative patents

Android was built as an open-source alternative to Apple’s iPhone, and the industry desperately needed a good alternative. Google offers it to all manufacturers (or anyone) for free, and anyone can freely modify it, though Google has an approval process for anyone who wants to use Google apps. This is all great. The controversy is the $12.5 billion Google is spending to purchase one huge conflict of interest: Motorola. Google reps and executives have said that the purchase is mostly being made to acquire Motorola’s 17,000 patents and 7,500 pending patents. These patents are needed to ‘supercharge’ and ‘protect’ Android, according to Page himself.

The CEO wrote on the company blog that Google’s “acquisition of Motorola will increase competition by strengthening Google’s patent portfolio, which will enable us to better protect Android from anti-competitive threats from Microsoft, Apple, and other companies.”

Still, Motorola holds about 13 percent of the US smartphone market, according to Comscore, meaning it has about a 25 percent (or so) market share among Android devices. No matter what Motorola, Google, or companies like Samsung or HTC may say, Google owning 25 percent of its own market changes the Android environment completely. It is easy to imagine a world where Motorola phones get first pick or custom versions of Android software. Google claims this will not happen, but history would disagree. Google is already putting its own properties first lately; why would Motorola be any different?

With its Motorola purchase, Google has already gone back on its previous statements about patent suits. The company now says that it has no plans to end or change Motorola’s ongoing patent lawsuits. Remember, it was only last year when Google claimed to be the victim of patent trolls? If patent trolling is wrong, then why is Google now participating in it? It will likely have a good excuse, but keeping Motorola’s lawsuits against Apple and others going after purchase is not in line with the Google of last August. Controversial blogger MG Seigler summarized this situation on PandoDaily with some colorful, but perhaps accurate language.

Google wants to own the store

Operating an app store for applications and games for Android is something that Google had to do in order to compete with the iPhone. But, as of late, Google’s ambition to operate its own content stores on Android — and get a 30 percent cut of content revenue — seems to be expanding on a regular basis. Google recently renamed the Android Market to “Google Play” and now sells apps, games, e-books, movie rentals, movie purchases, music, games, applications, and probably a lot more in the months and years to come. Should Google be opening up its own competitive content stores when there are so many third-party options available? It’s one thing to launch a cloud music storage system like Google Music, but now Google is in the business of selling MP3s. Is this wise?

Owning its own content store not only puts Google in competition with big retailers like Amazon (which is now making its own non-Google Android devices with its own app store), it also ties Google’s revenue to established types of content. While it used to make money indirectly through ads and give its products away for free, Google is now encouraging itself to sell products and make revenue directly. It’s not hard to imagine the Google of old coming up with an idea like Spotify, which offers music for free. Instead, we have Google Music, which sells restricted music in an iTunes-like model.

google-play-store

Google Play also puts Google into competition with many of the apps and services it sells. How long will it be before Google rejects an app because it competes with one of the company’s core services? Apple does it every day. Google seems unable to stay impartial anymore. It seems intent on monetizing every opportunity. This is bad news for an app like Google Listen, which offers podcasts and syndicated radio for free. It hasn’t had a substantial update in a year or two.

Google Maps, for a price

Another fundamental shift for Google is its sudden desire to charge for companies to use its Google Maps service. Our own Geoff Duncan wrote extensively about this issue last week. Major companies like Foursquare and Apple have defected from Google Maps and are now using OpenStreetMaps, an open-source alternative. Can you blame them? Google is now charging services that get more than 25,000 map loads per day a fee of $10 to $40 for each additional 1,000 map loads. This may sound inexpensive, but the charges would add up quickly, especially for a service like Foursquare, which has 15 million users. Plus, why would Foursquare want to pay Google for its map data when Google is actively (though poorly) attempting to take over Foursquare’s market with Google Latitude?

Companies abandoning Google Maps could spell long-term trouble for the service, which is currently the best mapping product around. If more companies move to OpenStreetMaps and other competing products, Google Maps could become the next MapQuest. It might soon be yesterday’s news.