Is PIM Google’s Next Thing?

Google’s an interesting company. Years and years ago Google’s two founders thought, let’s see… there’s no really good search engine to do searches on the internet right now. Let’s fix that. In 1998 Google entered the search scene and quickly overtook it. Even so much, that many people don’t talk about searching, but about Googling.

Then Google thought, let’s see… we have all these websites indexed, what can we do with that? Targeted advertising! In 2003 Google entered the advertising scene and quickly overtook it. Their very-well targeted text ads proved very succesful.

Then Google thought, let’s see… to store our big-ass database we use loads of storage. Throughout the years we figured out a way to store loads of data in a very cost-effective manner, by using cheap hardware. Why not use that skill to offer a storage system to users, in the form of e-mail. Google’s “Gmail”:http://gmail.com is still in beta and already it’s one of the most popular e-mail services around.

Then Google though, let’s see… what are really good at? Searching. And now that people can find anything on the internet in seconds, why not letting people do the same thing, but on their own computer. In 2004 Google entered the desktop search scene by launched the beta version of their “Desktop Search”:http://desktop.google.com and overtook it. Mostly because of the lack of (affordable) competition.

So, the guess is, what will Google think next? There have been rumours about a Gbrowser. Apparantly Google hired some people from places like Microsoft’s IE team and also registered gbrowser.com. But recently “Google stated that there won’t be a Google branded browser”:http://www.lindqvist.com/index.php?ID=1734. Whether that’s good or bad is hard to tell. Google, so far, has been all about web applications. They believe in the Web UI. But the Web UI has its limitations. If Google would own the browser software that people used to use their web applications, they could enrichen it. That would be good for the people using Google’s browser, but not good for all the other people not using it. But for now it’s not going to happen.

So, what will Google be doing? I can’t tell you that, but I can tell you what I *hope* they’ll be doing. Google owns two companies that don’t really fit into their strategy as of now: “Orkut”:http://www.orkut.com and “Blogger”:http://www.blogger.com. If I combine this with Gmail, their desktop search and Dejanews I’m thinking: Personal Information Management (PIM).

An example of a PIM application we have today is “Microsoft Outlook”:http://www.microsoft.com/outlook/. This is what it does:
* E-Mail
* Calendar
* Contacts

and with some extensions it also does:
* Newgroups
* RSS Aggregation

Do you feel it coming? Google is already doing e-mail with Gmail. Calendar is not something they’re currently doing, but it would be an obvious next step. They have a contacts feature built into Gmail, Orkut could be integrated with it to make it more useful. Google has bought Dejanews, which indexes newsgroups and allows you to read them through the web. And RSS aggregation, it’s such an obvious next step. Of course, Google indexes the whole web and so weblogs are included, but weblogs move way too fast for Google. That’s why services like “Feedster”:http://www.feedster.com are popular. Google, of course, has to get into indexing RSS feeds too. And if they do that, why not also take web aggregators to the next level? “Bloglines”:http://www.bloglines.com is nice, but it can be done so much better.

So let’s imagine Google PIM. A service that combines all your personal information needs. E-Mail, calendar, contacts, newsgroups, RSS and who knows what. Google has added so much functionality to its software in the past years that would work so well in a PIM application. And best of all: search through all of this data. From anywhere, no matter where you are. And I’m sure their desktop search will fit nicely into this aswell.

There’s one problem I’m seeing here though: vendor lock-in. So far, Google never tried to lock you in. You could use their adsense, even if you didn’t use their Gmail or search engine. You could use Gmail and not Orkut. And I think people like it that way. If Google would say “OK, now let’s all integrate that.” many people wouldn’t appreciate it. They might like Gmail, but don’t want anything to do with Orkut or the calendar application. That’s why I think the system should be modular enough to do that. Keep everything the way it is now, but also offer an integrating PIM on top of those. If the user uses both Gmail and Orkut, why not let them share the contact list? If you’re searching Google, why not let it search your mailbox and hard drive too?

And ultimately: open the thing up. So far, Google has kept most of its APIs to itself. The only thing we’re allowed to use is Google’s search (through the “Google Web API”:http://www.google.com/apis/). In a recent Microsoft-Watch interview, Joel Spolsky (who has nothing to do with Google, but is always worth listening to) “said”:http://www.microsoft-watch.com/article2/0,1995,1681960,00.asp:

But one of the mistakes Google is making is applications like Gmail are great on the Google platform. But if Google was really paying attention, they’d say we have to have outside developers writing applications for Google. There should be 27 different e-mail systems using the Google infrastructure. And then they can become Microsoft. It will be interesting to see if Google will wake up and open themselves to developers. The (current) Google API is incredibly narrow and not open.

Google should open up the APIs so that third-party developers could write applications that not only use Google’s services, but extend them. Microsoft’s Outlook has many third-party add-ons that increase Outlook’s worth. Having the opportunity to extend Google would be a good idea aswell.