Some time ago, Google bought Android, another mobile startup, and speculation was rife. I made a stub of a blog entry and forgot about it. As I wait for the Google calendar to weigh in I thought I might as well dust this off and put it out.
A friend of mine suggested sometime before this that working for Google would be dull since the problem of search is essentially solved. He was wrong but his assessment is illuminating in a couple of ways.
Firstly, his absolute faith in Google. In the time Before Google (BG) searching was generally a hit-and-miss and generally long-winded affair. You’d have to sift through pages and pages of unranked links which could take tens of seconds each to generate. At the end of it there was a rather significant possibility that the page you were looking for just wasn’t in the index and you’d root around another search engine. Google made search simple, quick and reliable and the knock-on effect for the usability of the web should not be underestimated.
Secondly — and this is rather more subtle — he demonstrates what is probably a healthy lack of discontent, for want of a better word. He’s not sensitive to problems. Discontented people think there must be a better way and go to unreasonable lengths to find it.
I’m going off on a bit of a tangent there; what has this got to do with Google? The point is that Google have this mindset, not just individually but as a company culture. They are in the habit of seeing problems that others have not even noticed and rethinking them into an opportunity. Thus far, they’ve taken the existing services of search, email and mapping and just done them properly. All these services existed previously but they all had sucky aspects which ignored the capabilities of current technology and the interaction with the user.
Whilst the web has become much more organised and usable in the last 10 years, the offline world has changed remarkably little. Unless I happen to be sitting next to a computer or a paper directory I’m stuffed if I want to locate something like a pub. I’m back to physically searching with my eyes and local knowledge, somewhat like a bushman looking for an oasis. In principle, this changed with Local Google. Now I can find ‘pizza near selly oak‘. However, I know where to get good pizza in Selly Oak (Riminis!) but I don’t always know where to find my mates.
By snapping up Dodgeball, Google seems to thinking along similar lines. The image of a GoogleMap on my mobile with pins for my friends is easily conjured. To get this happening seamlessly to the point where it will instantly convert people like previous service will require some very smart mobile hacking. I reckon this is where Android comes in.
There are a number of mobile social services out there already ranging from the scammy to the geeky. Even now, I expect Google is working on pushing on out into the real world and actually give people a reason to access the web on their mobiles. There’s precious little to get them online on their mobiles already.