It hardly seems possible that Google is now a tween. But it's true: ten years ago, on September 7, 1998, Google was born.
Back then there were a dozen ways to search the Web -- Excite, Lycos, Alta Vista, Hotwire, Yahoo, etc. -- none of them particularly good. I would go from one to another, trying and usually failing to find the information I needed.
Google changed all of that. It won the search wars the way you're supposed to win things -- by being simpler, faster, and better than everyone else. It quickly became my home page and that's where it remains.
As Google has rolled out more and more free services, I've given each of them a spin. After a week of using Google Maps I booted MapQuest out of my bookmarks folder. I ditched my PIM after Google introduced Google Calendar. Google News has replaced my morning newspaper.
But everything Google touches does not turn to gold. Gmail's offer of a free gig of storage revolutionized the notion of Web mail and obliterated the economic model Yahoo Mail and Hotmail were struggling to develop. But though I use Gmail, it won't replace my desktop software. I love the idea of having all my mail in the cloud, but Gmail's interface blows. I can't believe they've never overhauled it.
So far I've been totally unimpressed by Google Docs -- it won't replace Open Office for me. Froogle, Google's shopping search engine, has a cute name but that's about it. I looked at Orkut for about five minutes; that was enough. And where are the off-line solutions for Gmail and Google Calendar? They should have been ready a year ago. (Google Gears, anyone? Hello?)
Now we have Chrome and the Android phone. Together these are the most significant Google releases since the original search engine. Chrome could enable a Windows-free thin-client future; an Android phone could be that thin client.
But these apps -- and everything else the company does -- come back to the single most troubling thing about Google: its insatiable appetite for data. Though the company's privacy record is better than many, it's not great. And everything it does, from introducing new services to swallowing up ad delivery companies, adds to that treasure trove of data.
Here's the product I'd like to see the Sergey-Larry-Eric troika introduce before another ten years elapse: Google Privacy. Give me something that ensures I have total control over my information; that nobody -- marketers, service providers, lawsuit-happy media companies, Uncle Sam or Google itself -- can snoop around my digital domain.
Do that, and I'll stop complaining about the company that I rely on so heavily to feed my Net addiction. I might even buy them a cake or something.
And oh, by the way, Happy Birthday.
What would your life be like without Google? E-mail me direct: firstname.lastname@example.org.