The belated wisdom of techies abandoning Google
July 12th, 2013 by ravi

Sam Whited via Hacker News on leaving Google:

Like many people, I recently decided to move many of my online services away from Google. The recent Google Reader shutdown and Google Hangouts disabling XMPP federation made me realize that any of my services could go at any time and I didn’t want to be so dependant on a single provider or the integrations between services.

Among the reasons for switching away from Google:

When you’re paying for your social network, it makes you a customer instead of a product.

All of the recent hand-wringing over Google, especially under this “customer vs product” meme, reminds me of Paul Krugman’s point that apparently, to be taken seriously, one has to have been wrong first. For was it not obvious from day one that by signing up for Gmail, Google Calendar, so on, you were submitting yourself to be Google’s product, not a customer?

So you have well-intentioned posts like this one from Whited, full of pointers to open source alternatives, and yet, three, four of seven years ago, when Whited was, as now, Google’s product and not their customer, he chose to sign up for Gmail and other Google products. Why?

I suspect the reason is a version of the usual confusion between “free as in freedom” and “free as in beer” that underlies Open Source itself.

Google used to give the warm fuzzies to techies because of its perceived commitment to Open Source. This is despite the fact that Google single-handedly made advertising on the Internet mainstream and respectable by purchasing DoubleClick, one of the most despised marketers on the net. Somehow, this sentimentality towards Google made it possible for techies to tolerate targeted ads displayed alongside their email, something that would have been an intolerable abomination in 1998. The sporadic (if genuine) gestures from Google to openness coupled with the “free as in beer” nature of Google products helped techies square the circle of their use of these products. Consequently, concern for privacy, aesthetic experience and user requirements was set aside in favour of zero cost, the fuzzy feel of openness, and a few power user features.

Now the response is to run away from “free as in beer” to “unfree as in champagne” options like which are, if anything, less viable than free Google products that might be yanked at a moment’s notice. I doubt it is going to help much.

P.S: There is, of course, the option that is so obvious that it cannot be stated: iCloud. It provides web and app APIs to services like mail, calendaring, file storage, etc. And it is a product that is sustained by one of the wealthiest company in the world, a company which treats you as a customer, not a product.

Comments are closed
»  Substance: WordPress  »  Style: Ahren Ahimsa