My Twitter stream is currently full of friends attending Google I/O, where it unveils all the cool stuff people are going to be able to build on. It's the usual mixture of excited squeals at clever new things and cynical mutterings about how Google will bend everything it has invented or bought so that it can show you more advertising. But I never worry about that, because I think Google is trying to get out of advertising.
Google was invented by engineers. They, typically, hate advertising – but they stumbled on an advertising-based business model so lucrative that it was hard to keep hating it. Even so, they certainly did their best to keep their distance. They made the advertising they carry look as unlike regular advertising as possible and all their rhetoric was about how they would make advertising so relevant and targeted that it would stop actually being advertising and become useful information.
And they have created an almost entirely separate culture and organisation to sustain the ad business. Talk with people from different sides of that business – they don’t talk about, or dream about, the same things.
That’s why I don’t worry that the self-driving cars are going to take diversions past billboards or the thermostats are going to whisper ads in your ear while you’re sleeping. Google is not looking for new ways to do advertising – it is looking for ways to get out of it.
Wouldn't it be more sensible to make some useful services for your home that you would actually pay for?
Consider Nest. It’s a premium domestic appliance, it’s a thing you can sell for more than it costs you to make. I guess you could make some sort of strange ad product with it, but wouldn’t it be more sensible to take all of Google’s machine-learning and location-tracking and make some useful services for your home that you would actually pay for? Sure, I bet the ad side of the business is exploring possibilities with it, but it’s not the priority.
I think Google is taking its language-processing and robots and energy and fibre, and it is trying to build a world where it doesn’t have to do advertising – a world where it is the world’s best information and tech business, and it gets paid because of that, not because other companies are trying to sell stuff on its platform.
I have no evidence for these assertions. I assume someone at Google will deny it. It may actually be in some form of corporate denial. But the key thing I know: Google is very smart and it has thought very hard about the advertising business. Anyone that smart, who has thought that hard, isn’t going to pin their future on it.
Russell Davies is a creative director at Government Digital Service
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