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BW Businessworld

Google Gets Personal

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There are a thousand big and little ways in which Google is changing the very stuff of your everyday life. If we go back to their mission statement for a moment: “…to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful…”, we find that they’re sticking by it alright. But think back to the time when Google was just a simple and uncluttered search engine — and look where they are now. The extent to which Google is in charge of what information and content we get to see and how and when we see it was evident at the company’s recent I/O developer-focused event in San Francisco. Last year, they zoomed in with skydivers to introduce the Glass Project. This year, there was none of that. In fact, there was no hardware in sight, except for a Google edition of the Galaxy S4 running on stock Android instead of Samsung’s layers of interface and features. What Google outlined, in a multi-exec presentation that clocked over three hours, was a vision of a world in which Google serves up anything you need to know.

Only thing is, it’s not a vision to be realised sometime in the distant future. It’s right now. And if you have a device that runs on Android 4.2.2, it’s even earlier. 
 
If there’s one overriding theme that stood out for me from the I/O event, attended and watched by millions around the world, it was personalisation. You will get information based on what you do — and you will do based on the information you get. Now whether that means being locked into a cycle that limits one’s world, I don’t know. Larry Page completely dismissed the idea that this would be limiting. In answer to a question, he said that it was all in our own control and there was little point in throwing random or serendipitous information at users. It was more important that they got what they need, when they need it. 
 
And so, in keeping with that theme, almost every Google product will be impacted, starting immediately. Take a look at your updated Google Now, one of Google’s most personal and personalised apps. You can set reminders there and geofence them so that they pop up based on where you are. If I only want my remember-the-groceries reminder when I’m home, that’s where I’ll see it. One point to note is that while there was a lot of worry, including from me, about the seemingly intrusive and pre-emptive nature of Google Now, everyone loves using it. 
 
Then there’s search. Google’s search geek Amit Singhal said that it was the end of search as we know it. That too will be deeply personalised and will be like having a real conversation with the Google lady (or man) who will understand context and previous queries. As an example, a lady demonstating interaction with search asked Google to show her photographs from her trip to New York last year — and in a second, there they were. 
 
Maps will also be so much more than just line drawings and driving instructions. A new version is gradually rolling out to users and it’s obviously more of an experience than a map. Not only does it look real and zoom right inside some places (users can put up 360-degree panoramic photographs of places) but it will learn from what you require and present information accordingly. It will also take into account recommendations from friends or just learn from their activities. As you seek, contextual and relevant information such as restaurants will come up. 
 
I highly recommend watching the I/O event on YouTube, skipping ahead if you don’t want the entire three hours, to see the full extent of changes Google is making to products you use daily. Without a doubt, these changes are empowering, making us waste less time on looking for things or even wondering what it is we need at a given moment. Without a doubt, they offer enough value for us to be perfectly willing to kiss our privacy goodbye. In fact, it already seems passé to be worrying about privacy in this context. But also without a doubt is that the world is increasingly one that is brought to you by Google. 

mala(at)pobox(dot)com 
Twitter: (at)malabhargava

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 17-06-2013)