Monday, January 26, 2009

Decline and Fall?

Evil Empire? Are the cracks beginning to show in the Google Empire? In the last week a number of people have written about "what's wrong with Google". The answer is, quite a lot. Leaving aside long term concerns such as privacy, monopoly, and quite understandable cost management in the recent shut down of several services such as Google Notebook and Jaiku, in the last few weeks some more serious technical problems have come to light.

My doubts started when I became dissatisfied with the sharing features offered by Google Reader and moved my shared items blog to Posterous - which I am very happy with. Google Reader seems to be developing that awfully familiar fossilized feel we are used to with Microsoft products such as Office - underneath the cosmetic alterations, problems are not fixed and there is no innovation. A dissatisfied customer is potentially bad news, but dissatisfied bloggers are a good way to trigger a slide into an uncertain future.

And for whatever reason, Google has broken Blogsearch by indexing entire blog pages rather than just indexing feed content - that is, just the content of blog posts - so that the results are contaminated by noise from queries which match static sidebar content or other cruft. I subscribe to quite a few Blogsearch RSS feeds as a means of monitoring a number of interests, but in the past few weeks these have become almost worthless as there is now so much noise in the feeds. I have tried to replace these with keyword feeds from Icerocket, and although this is not a bad alternative, it's not as comprehensive as Blogsearch used to be. Add to this Google's inability to provide the sort of realtime search facility provided by Twitter and FriendFeed, and the giant appears to be losing its grip on search.

But the thing that's exercising me most at present is Google's ability to buy a thriving service such as Feedburner and turn it into a trainwreck. Feedburner has always provided bouncy-bouncy fictitious subscriber counts, but the move from to has not done anything to improve the situation. And Google's inability or unwillingness to provide realtime services isn't helping either.

Separately, these are not earth-shattering problems. Together, do they start to paint a picture that Google may be struggling with the hordes besieging the gates?

We may be well assured, that a writer, conversant with the world, would never have ventured to expose the gods of his country to public ridicule, had they not already been the objects of secret contempt among the polished and enlightened orders of society.