The New Google: Internet Giant Opens Up About Real-Time and Local Search, Cloud Computing, and Data Liberation

12/21/09Follow @gthuang

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improvements,” he says. In 2009, there were more than 100 major feature launches across Google Apps—things like video chat and Gmail offline. He says Google will “continue to emphasize the communication offerings.” Besides advancing Gmail and Calendar, that includes polishing up Google Docs and rounding out its suite of features. Norton says Google is also looking to expand its collaborative software offerings, including products for large businesses in the area of interoperability with security systems for authentication.

Bottom line: it sounds like Google is making the transition from focusing on free consumer cloud products to putting more emphasis on paid cloud offerings for enterprises.

Data liberation. This is a growing effort within the company to allow consumers to more easily export their data from Google products like Blogger, Google Maps, Google Docs, Chrome, and App Engine (developers’ user data). It might sound like PR-friendly stuff, but there’s a deeper and more interesting innovation strategy here.

Brian Fitzpatrick, an open-source software vet, heads up the two-year-old effort from Google’s Chicago offices. The basic idea is to help users get their files and other data out of Google’s cloud so they can switch them to other systems if they want to. “Most people don’t think about data liberation until it’s too late,” Fitzpatrick says. “We hope if you leave us for one product today, you’ll try another product tomorrow.”

Beyond “doing the right thing for users,” he says, there’s another motivation. “We as a company work hard on things like search. If users are locked into your products, you get more complacent. If it’s easier for someone to leave, you’ll be motivated to bust your butt, and make your products better.”

So there you have it. Google thinks this sort of openness about customers’ data will make the company work harder to keep them. Fitzpatrick says he doesn’t know of other companies that have a published initiative to do this.

He says his biggest challenge now isn’t the engineering, it’s raising awareness. “It’s hard to get people to think about why this is important,” he says. But it fits into the notion of how consumers and businesses will take care of all their data as more of it migrates to the cloud—and how Google wants to be in charge of organizing the world’s information, every step of the way.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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