As 2009 becomes 2010, Google remains the most interesting technology company. Google is involved in so many--probably too many--things and the regulatory environment, if not competition, has begun to heat up.
With that in mind, I offer 10 "New Year's Resolutions" for the crew at the Googleplex, in the hope that Google can, in some cases, change its ways before government steps in to change them:
1. Do a better job of communicating with users regarding privacy. This seems obvious enough, but Google needs better help users understand what it is (and isn't) doing with the information it gathers about them and their habits.
Ultimately, Google will be ordered to submit to some form of external oversight, so perhaps the company should get ahead of the curve and fund an independent Google privacy watchdog. It would provide counsel to the company and transparency to its users.
I trust Google's current management--as I trust Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer--but users have reasons to fear Google's collection and use of information, even in its search index. There will be restrictions placed upon the company, and I believe that will be a good thing over the long haul.
2. Be more proactive in dealing with government. 2010 is likely the year the Feds will start moving in on Google. I am especially interested on how the company has used "free" services, underwritten with ad revenue, to stifle real or potential competition outside of its core search business. Ultimately, Google is going to court.
3. Stay out of the social network business. Google has tried social networking and failed. Knol and Orkut have not come close to success. Give up.
4. Google should decide it is not a hardware company. I do not like the idea of Google competing with hardware vendors. I thought the Droid was supposed to be Google's idea of what a smartphone should be. Now it's the Nexus One. What will it be next week? My hope is the handset manufacturers will gang up against Google for this sort of behavior.
5. Likewise Chrome OS hardware. It's great for Google to create specs and reference designs, probably wrong for it to actually brand and sell hardware. I think "Made for Chrome OS" stickers are as far as it should go.
6. Make better applications. Am I the only one who notices that Google Apps don't nearly compete with Microsoft Office if you actually care what the output looks like? Or if you need features beyond the basic set Google provides?
7. Give up on the AdMob purchase. 2010 really is the year Google will bump into external restrictions, if it doesn't impose them itself.
8. Support competing operating systems. Where is Google Maps Navigation for the iPhone? Apple has said Google can submit the app for approval. I haven't heard anything since.
9. Make Google Voice a more useful service. Google Voice could replace people's telephone service with a VoIP product, but isn't quite up to the task in its present form. Great start, though.
10. I have tried playing with the Google Wave collaboration beta and still find it to be a head scratcher. I think this is another technology in search of a problem to solve. No collaboration product--I am thinking of Lotus Notes and Microsoft Groove as primary examples--has yet become a must-have for average business users. Wave shows promise, but isn't even close in functionality and ease-of-use. Having said that, collaboration is an incredibly tough problem to solve.
So, there are 10 things that Google should do to improve products and get ahead of the regulators.
As we begin a new year, I am wondering whether 2010 will be the year customers start to rebel against Google or whether the aura of "free" this and that has completely blinded them to the potential and real dangers Google may pose.
People who worried about Microsoft should really worry about Google.