Beware The Ecosystems

I have a confession to make. For the past few months, Google has started to skeeve me out.

A few years back I wrote an article called “Pick Your Ecosystem Carefully.” I broke down the pros and cons of throwing in with Microsoft, Apple, Google and Palm (this was 2008, remember, when Palm still meant something). There was no clear winner, but what was obvious was the tremendous danger of lock-in if you ended up with a choice that no longer fit your needs.

The Verge’s Vlad Savov recently had a great comparison of the various digital ecosystems out there and after what was called “8000 words of fence-sitting,” he came to largely the same conclusion in 2012 that I did in 2008: Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon… They’re all good, but choose wisely. None of them will do what you want all the time.

Until recently, I was pretty much a Google Man. All of my mail is in Gmail, and has been since 2004. I wrote in Google Docs, used Google Chrome for my browser, carried a Galaxy Nexus (the current “pure Google” Android phone) everywhere I went. I used Google+ to keep in touch with my friends, Google Calendar and Google Tasks to organize my life.

Lately, though, Google’s been giving me the willies. Guys like SearchEngineLand’s Danny Sullivan are starting to make a lot of sense. I wouldn’t go as far as to call Google evil; I don’t think the word is applicable to a corporation (which is not a person, regardless what the Supreme Court seems to think). But it’s growing clearer that my best interest and Google’s don’t align as they once did, and I’d be a fool to expect a for-profit company to respect my needs over their own.

This isn’t about the privacy policy or the terms of service for Google Drive. It’s about how Drive, Plus, Search and the redesigns of all the major Google services show an increased tendency to “lock in” users to Google… and only Google. Instead of enabling me to do what I want, I’m starting to feel penned in using Google’s services. I don’t trust them anymore. I don’t necessarily think they mean to “be evil,” but I no longer feel comfortable giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Only, here’s the thing. No one else is any better. Microsoft is all about locking you into Windows, Office, SkyDrive, Bing and Live services. Apple wants you to use exclusively iOS, OS/X, iCloud and iTunes. It’s trouble no matter who you go with. So, better the devil you know, right?

Wrong. In my next article, I’m going to show you how I’m building my own ecosystem from separate pieces, no one company in charge of everything. Where possible, I’m using open standards and data stores that I control. If I do it right, I’ll have a digital infrastructure just as capable as Google, Microsoft or Apple could give me, but not dependent on any of them.

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