But in the long run that’s a problem for Google. Because we tend not to entrust this sort of critical public infrastructure to the private sector. Network externalities are all fine and good to ignore so long as they mainly apply to the sharing of news and pics from a weekend trip with college friends. Once they concern large swathes of economic output and the cognitive activity of millions of people, it is difficult to keep the government out. Maybe that deterrent will be sufficient to keep Google providing its most heavily used products. But maybe not.
Huh. This Economist article seems to be in favour of nationalizing the internet? And most other services?
I think that the focus was more on the services provided by private companies, as opposed to infrastructure itself (i.e. not the wires, but the stuff that runs on the wires). But I think The Economist has a point that governments could be involved if services that are perceived (note: perception does not necessarily correspond with empirical facts) as essential are threatened.
What really threw me in the piece was this paragraph:
But that makes it increasingly difficult for Google to have success with new services. Why commit to using and coming to rely on something new if it might be yanked away at some future date? This is especially problematic for “social” apps that rely on network effects. Even a crummy social service may thrive if it obtains a critical mass. Yanking away services beloved by early adopters almost guarantees that critical masses can’t be obtained: not, at any rate, without the provision of an incentive or commitment mechanism to protect the would-be users from the risk of losing a vital service.
I mean: I really, really, really use Google Reader. I use the shit out of it on a daily basis. I’m the definition of one of their power users, with hundreds of sites subscribed to – often ones that only get updates every month or two, but that are super helpful for my research – and so I’m far from impressed that Google’s shuttering the service. Reader lets me hold onto the long-tail of the Internet.
But: I’m not certain how a writer can clearly link ‘early adopter’ with yanking away Google Reader. I mean, it’s an older(ish) service. We’re not talking about something that was spawned a few months ago. I get that the write might have been obliquely referring to the social functions of reader that were stripped out a year or so back, but still: there’s no way (at the time of Reader’s social demise) that you can imagine those individuals as ‘early adopters’. The product was mature (as far as many Internet products go) and just didn’t have a lot of people using the service for social purposes beyond a pretty vocal minority.
I want to be clear that I’m already dreading the loss of Google Reader. Seriously dreading. But the article in The Economist is kind of weird insofar as it mixes what are arguably fair points with insider baseball and vaguely suggested ‘beware government regulators if you screw with the services your users really use.“