Google vs. AOL

Google is doing what AOL tried to do a few years back. They’re working on providing stuff that will keep more and more of your internet viewing time within the confines of Google. But they’re going about customer engagement in a very different way.

Take Google Mail. This was a great introduction. But besides threading, a slightly more appealing user interface and a greater level of storage, it had little to tempt a Yahoo! or Hotmail user across. So they developed Google Apps, allowing you to fully control your own domain’s mail through the same interface. Oh, and you can then manage all of your domain’s email accounts through that same interface. And it’s integrated with Google Calendar. Sweet.

Aside from email, what else do people do a lot of online? Ah, read stuff. Google Reader enters stage left. Now you can read the stuff that you generally read within a single interface, all in a single place. (I often wonder whether I’m losing out because of the resulting blandness of the peripheral experience. That’s an aside.) Oh, and then there’s news, catered for by Google News—news reading is just not suited to Google Reader.

Why limit things to traditionally online activities? Now we have Google Docs and Spreadsheets, taking albeit a tiny proportion of viewing hours away from Microsoft..Slowly they’re drawing us into a Google world, one which you may or may not like, or indeed approve of.

AOL tried to do the same five years ago, but there is a key difference between the two approaches: Google invites you to join their world; AOL foisted everything upon you the moment you inserted that wretched CD into your machine. The browser itself, email, shopping, messaging, everything was AOL branded and unless you had a certain amount of technical ability, an amount that most people are devoid of (not a dig, just reality), you couldn’t escape from the resulting AOL-branded hell-hole.

I like what Google’s doing. I enjoy using their products, and I feel that they add huge value to my online experience. I despised AOL with a passion, and whenever I used my parents’ PC (brought to me by AOL), the hatred raged further while I hunted for the uninfected IE shortcut on the desktop.

Whenever things are foisted upon a user, whether they’re good or bad, there is an equal and opposite reaction by the user, Newton’s fourth law, I believe.

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