I had a thought the other day that Google could have achieved its goals much more directly and quickly by gradually embracing and extending the existing social fabric of the web, that they were basically owners of and more or less still are.
Their search engine was and still is the glue that holds the web together. So, why didn't they build around that?
They should have gradually enhanced the glue, offering tools that shore up its deficiencies.
Where others, Twitter and Facebook, notably -- delivered functionality that depended on centralizing the content of the web, Google should have built around decentralization with caching, and new standards for helping content be viewed in many contexts, many different renderings.
The nascent standards were there as early as 2001. I was writing about this at the time, urging them to help us with RSS and OPML. You know what they did instead. We're still waiting for them to help us be independent of all the centralized services, which whether they like it or not, is what they do.
They had everything needed to help make it work, they just had to build architectures not products. Google Reader should have been a structure that welcomed apps connecting to it, running on App Engine of course. Hack at the APIs until they're simple, but also deploy AMIs that run in Amazon's cloud. And on the other side, disassemble Blogger into its components, open sourcing it all, and provide APIs, that get simpler over time, to cover the other side of content creation. And as before, the software is all open source, and available as App Engine modules and Amazon AMIs.
It's dawning on smart people now that we collectively made a mistake in turning over the judgement of what we see to Facebook and probably to Twitter (we don't know what they're doing or planning to do with the content flowing through their servers). I made the same mistake. The technology of the last 10 years should have all been open to experimentation by developers without locking users in. There are a lot of developers who believe in this. It's central to the mission of WhatsApp, btw, so if you doubted that it could be lucrative, you should think again.
It's not too late. But they have to help us, and not be so cynical about the power of individuals. I think that's more evident today than it ever was. Their biggest mistake was their attitude about the rest of us.
See also: Why people like Facebook.