This whole Google Reader thing has me thinking about Google as a whole, and about other services out there. It seems to me that the Internet is trending back towards centralization – that is, a handful of large companies offering a variety of services under the same umbrella.
Consider the state of ISPs back in the late 80s and early 90s. Back then, there were services like America Online, Compuserve and Prodigy that offered email, news, basic Web connectivity and other in-house features. Users didn’t really have to go to other places to get their content; it was all under the same roof. But then those services dwindled and changed form around the time when the Internet really took off. Suddenly there were thousands of more specialized venues where users could go to interact and consume media. No longer did you have to read the New York Times through AOL – now you could just go to the Times’ website!
But now it seems like things are trending back towards centralization. Google offers just about everything a user could need: email, news aggregation, a social network, maps, phones, and obviously Internet search. Facebook is now a leader in social gaming, band and celebrity information, and obviously their own social network. Apple’s got iCloud and its ubiquitous phones, MP3 and app purchases, and so on. (Microsoft is a relative lightweight in these fields, actually.) Worse, new companies and products (e.g. startups) regularly get bought and integrated into these already huge companies. In a way we’re looking at the new conglomerates.
And honestly, I’m not sure I like the way this is going. Competition is a good thing: at least on the Internet, it keeps products fresh and updated, prices low and things moving forward. It’s curious to me that despite people’s general antipathy towards large players in the tech field like AOL and Microsoft, they would still embrace these sort of huge companies. I guess we’ll see which way things go in the future…