Back in the 90s and early noughties, Microsoft was frequently criticised for going beyond its role as a maker of operating systems and office software and muscling in on other firms’ business. When it tried to bulldoze its way into the browser market by installing Internet Explorer on Windows PCs, an antitrust action famously ensued.
Such was its notoriety for this practice that if you enter into a search engine the phrase ‘embrace, extend and distinguish’, you’ll find both a detailed Wikipedia entry on the subject and numerous headlines alluding to Microsoft’s bad habit.
Current ruler of the internet, of course, is Google, which just so happens to be engaged in a similar chapter of expansion. As well as following a number of companies that have carved an impressive niche for themselves in the music-download and -streaming market (Spotify, Napster and Apple iTunes), Google has trained its sights on the big daddy of social networks: Facebook. We take a look at the best options for music streaming in our latest issue (onsale now) and discuss how the entry of Google Music and Apple iCloud will impact what’s already an interesting slice of the internet.
Google+, meanwhile, is the search engine company’s answer to Facebook. “We'd like to bring the nuance and richness of real-life sharing to software. We want to make Google better by including you, your relationships, and your interests,” said Google of its new endeavour.
It’s had a couple of stabs at capitalising on its vast army of Gmail users before, launching Buzz and Wave as means to follow and share information with other Google users. Neither made much impact, but Google+ appears to be the proverbial successful third attempt. Google already had many millions of users when the former two launched, but with the runaway success of the Android smartphone and tablet platform – both requiring a Google email account as a user login – even more of us are now fully signed-up members of the Google clan.
Herein lies the problem, as far as I’m concerned. We’re moving inexorably towards an ever-more web-centric way of working and accessing entertainment, but in return we’re giving up more and more of ourselves. Yes, you might use the same Gmail login for myriad services, but the more of those you use, the longer the trail you leave of where you’ve been, who you’ve engaged with, pages you’ve viewed and opinions you’ve expressed. Very few sites now let you leave anonymous comments and you can’t always opt out of tracking cookies.
All this plays nicely into Google’s hands. Never forget that Google is first and foremost about search. Much about the web has changed since Google first set up its business 13 years ago, but the aggregation, sharing and crawling of information remains at its heart. It’s free to join, but you may never fully escape Google’s web.