But was all that just an act?
The first signs that Google was brewing plans that were not-exactly-not-evil might have actually come in 2009, when it signed a partnership agreement with Verizon Wireless. Google had previously battled the monolithic carrier, which it claimed was working to undermine user choice by attempting to enforce restrictive rules on the radio frequencies that now power 4G devices.
But when Google capitulated on disagreements over the bandwidth and dived head-first into a big partnership with Verizon to launch the Droid mobile phone, something started to feel off. It seemed like Google was favoring money and market share over what was best for users.
In some ways, this wasn’t the company’s fault. As our devices and experiences have become more about ecosystems than single points of entry, a kind of regrouping has been happening. Google has come to this party later than others, but just as Facebook would like you to remain within its pages and never leave, and Apple would like you to exclusively use its network of applications, music and videos, so too does Google.
But the flip-flop on Verizon without a good explanation seemed just a little bit evil.
A few years ago, Google’s position as search leader was practically unassailable. To find what you were looking for on the Web, there was really only one portal. Google built its business on the number of potential consumers it could introduce to advertisers and the search-targeted advertising it had honed. The company didn’t need to own or control content; it owned and controlled how you got to the content.
It’s clear that Google has had to evolve as its position has slipped. It has had to become more than agile — it has had to become wildly aggressive. Slowly but surely, we’ve watched Google try to find a way into spaces where its search is increasingly less relevant.
That’s where Google+ comes in. Google+, unveiled in June, is the company’s first real answer to Twitter and Facebook.
A few weeks ago, Google made one of the biggest changes to its search product. If you happened to be signed in to your Gmail account, Google search began including — no, not just including, but promoting — Google+ links inside of your search results. Sure, you can turn off this personalized search feature, but many users might not know how. So if you had searched for Ryan Gosling, it might have also displayed information about other people named Ryan that you’re friends with or showed you images that your friends have shared at the top of image results.