Monday, November 4, 2013

After iGoogle: all your friends are belong to us?

I was an iGoogle holdout.

Yup. To the very last day.

For those who missed it: iGoogle allowed anyone with a Google ID to create a personalized portal stocked with any of a wide selection of Ajax-based gadgets -- news, stock quotes, the now-defunct Google Reader, weather forecasts, your e-mail inbox, etc. -- arranged in tiles on a web page, and built around the foundation of Google's search interface. Pretty convenient. I used it as a Home page for the service's 8 year lifespan.

I liked iGoogle for the reason most people like Google's basic services (search, mail, calendar, maps): the user interface tends to be simple, functionally straightforward, and more richly configurable (or API-addressable) than one might reasonably expect of a service that's free. (Well, free except for that small matter of letting Google track every e-mail, search, clicked-thru web page, and third-party social connection that the Overlords of Mountain View can get their acquisitive mitts on ... the NSA would be jealous except they've been stealing everything Google knows about us on the sly).

Over several weeks before iGoogle shut down I looked at a number of the many alternative 'construct your own portal to the intertubes' services that are marketing themselves as iGoogle replacements. I don't claim to have made a comprehensive survey, but I gave Netvibes and Protopage a serious try, and checked out a few other before settling on uStart. (The uStart page displayed in this post is the default presented to users who have not logged in; the company is based in the U.K., hence the prominence given to BBC's news and London's weather.)

I don't think it was an accident that Google began rolling out Google+ vanity URLs a couple days before iGoogle shut down. Google has a strategy for positioning itself in social media space, and sunsetting or paring back services has always been a part of it. In November 2010 I wrote, for example, of how the company's revamp of Google Groups signaled its intentions in social media space.

I'd venture that Google's idea of a happy future involves a preponderance of people using the Google search engine to find stuff that search engines find; and to use Google+ to become aware of stuff that people prefer to find through social connections / recommendations. Already, today, using Google's search engine while logged into a Google ID yields 'personalized' search results. That is, Google algorithms use every e-mail, past search, clicked-thru web page, and third-party social connection it has tracked to figure out what we're really looking for ... and what adverts the company can most profitably present to us.

My read: the plan in shutting down iGoogle is to push users toward Google+ for a personalized Google/portal experience ... the Googleplex goal  being corporate ownership of the social connectivity that more than a billion monthly active users now get from Facebook combined with the search experience that Google search engine users access a billion times a day. (Google+ has about 540 million monthly active users as of 29 October, according to AP.) [Naturally, these numbers are chewed over and contested to death by intertube analysts. Disclaimer: I am not a credentialed intertube analyst, except to the extent that you and your kid siblings and everybody else is too.]

In March 2012, Vic Gundotra, Google's Senior VP for engineering, was quoted on the topic of where Google and Google+ are heading in the NY Times to roughly this effect:
"This is just the next version of Google," Mr. Gundotra said, noting that he sees Google Plus as a social blanket that envelopes the entire Google experience. "Everything is being upgraded. We already have users. We’re now upgrading them to what we consider Google 2.0."
I'm not entirely comfortable with this vision.

Yeah, Google is going to track me anyway ... something I bring on myself by using many of its offerings. I'm also a willing participant in public social networking (anybody who looks can find me on BlogspotTwitter, Tumblr, my Facebook Author (proto-) Page, and Daily Kos, never mind my web site). It's also arguably true that the NSA knows more about me than I do.

But I'm still a little queasy about the prospect of being enveloped by the Google+ social blanket given how much of my on-line search and social activity that would place in a single corporate data center.

Hence my move to uStart now that iGoogle is no more.

How about you?



Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Four eyes: 4 ways Google Glass might change the world
Pimped by our own devices: electronica, the cloud, and privacy piracy
Google everything: technology in our times
Google signals its next social media move

4 comments:

  1. Whats the difference between iGoogle and igHome?

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  2. I am now using http://www.startme.com as my startpage and I have setup direct links to the Google Services I use.

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  3. Thanks for weighing in, Luuk. On my Daily Kos cross-post of this blog a fair few commenters recommend igHome, which I tried for a while but at the time found to be pokey (not so any more, I'm assured -- have yet to check for myself). Also Symbaloo has been recommended by some.

    For search, a lot of folks on Daily Kos favor DuckDuckGo, which I'm checking out now. The site/service claims not to track information about users, and because it does not use a user's profile to filter search results one sees the same thing as everyone else does when you search (avoiding what some call the "filter bubble").

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  4. We're a few months down the road now so we had some time to get used to the alternatives. I tried a couple but ended up using http://www.start.me as Luuk suggested above. It works well, lets me do what I need to do and looks good.

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