How much Google can you take?

With the apparent downgrading of Google+, is there a small lesson for Google in looking in the mirror and considering whether it tries to overwhelm people just a little too much?

pageone.png
An overzealous lover? TED 2014/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

The relationships human beings have with brands are little different from the relationships they have with lovers.

Some are keepers. Some are one-night stands. Some grow on you. Some are merely friends with benefits.

Some, though, just don't take the hint.

They bombard their lovers with flowers, gifts, texts, jewelry, clothes and, of course, cars. Anything to keep you around.

OK, Google. It's all too much.

There's something Google doesn't quite seem to get: the concept of too much. It wants us to search through it, surf on it, ride in it, see through it, pay with it, and talk on it.

It wants us, at heart, to be driven in it, to abdicate our own agency in favor of that of its engineers.

Google is the ultimate sugar daddy, albeit a brainiac one.

It will looks after us, feeds us, and tells us what we need. As long as we just make nice.

OK, Google. Maybe we should see other people.

Then there's the brain implants. It's the next logical step. We've been together for a while. Google is showing a wrinkle here or there. It hates it when we look around and see something younger and more exciting.

So it gets jealous.

It demands to know where we are all the time. It actually has the technology to achieve that knowledge.

The first step in this demand was called Google+.

It was sneaky. Or at least Google thought. Design it well and you'll get to know a lot more about who everyone is and what they really do. Then, you can sell this far more expansive information to advertisers, while at the same time watching every step individuals make.

Google had to strongarm you, of course. But that's what the most benevolent lovers do, right?

As they whisper: "You'll love it. And it's for your own good."

Now that Vic Gundotra, the very slightly overconfident pusher of Google+ has departed, is it worth wondering whether, despite the fact that Google+ was well-designed, some people might have wondered: "Haven't I got enough Google in my life?"

Though it's easy to think of real, ordinary people as dupes (especially if they're not engineers), at some point they express their needs in subtle ways. They just don't participate. They slip away and don't tell you.

Google might think that they can garland everyone with products in order to keep them happy, but at some point people get suspicious.

One of those moments might have been when Google+ was called Google+. If I've already got Google search and Gmail and I float over to Google+, isn't that just too much of a plus-one?

Even the most tasteless European soccer player can only wear so many pieces of clothing that say "D&G" before his fellow players start laughing at him.

This is a logic that Facebook seems to have grasped.

Every time it copied another product and called it Facebook Something, people tended to demur.

Then it bought Instagram.

An overbearing lover (or brand manager) would immediately have tried to rename it Facebook Images.

Somehow, Facebook mustered sufficient humanity to realize that if people aren't as conscious that this new product is somehow Facebook, they will happily participate. And they do.

Similarly, when Facebook bought WhatsApp, that same lover who knows just what's good for you would have immediately renamed it Facebook Text.

Instead, WhatsApp is itself, even if the money will now flow into Facebook's coffers.

Apple understands this too. Yes, it locks you into its ecosystem. But it doesn't try to overwhelm every single part of your existence and activity.

It doesn't try not only to design an Apple car, but insist that it's now the only way to travel, as Google's Larry Page fancifully believes.

It doesn't even try to foist too many products on you, for fear that just one too many Apple logos in your life will, quite simply, turn you off.

Google, though, believes that everything Google is great. Or, at least, that it's a great idea worth putting out there to see what happens.

OK, Google. Maybe we should see other people.

The company must experience a touch of astonishment when, for all its protestations of goodness (and especially protestations of knowing the precise goodness we all need), commentators such as Kara Swisher describe it as "dangerous and thuggish."

That same astonishment must have accompanied the launch of Google Glass.

Did anyone at Google stop to wonder that real humans wouldn't entirely appreciate the sight of snoopy borgs wandering their neighborhoods?

Did it not cross their minds that there might be a tiny reaction to the idea of being caught unawares by a nerd on the prowl for, um, fascination?

I suspect not. Even though the company launched Glass on a surprisingly human advertising platform, it released a prototype that made wearers look just a touch demented and expected the world to be grateful.

That's the problem with believing that you really are the second coming of Tesla. Not the car, the man.

If you set yourself to be the new wave of science, it takes a little persuasion for everyone to believe it. Google hasn't bothered enough with the persuasion. It starts with the preconception that it's in the right. And it's far more claustrophobically enveloping than it leads you to believe.

Of course, the sheer mass that Google has established -- and its deep ties with the Department of Defense are surely a layer of protection -- means that a failure here and there won't hurt it in the short term.

But real people are strange. Sometimes, they walk away and never come back. Sometimes, they find a way to get what they need without having to stay with the overbearing lover.

OK, Google. I'm not sure this is going to work out.

 

Join the discussion

Conversation powered by Livefyre

Show Comments Hide Comments