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I See What Google Did There…

A few years ago, I read a book called What Would Google Do? I actually don’t recommend it. But there’s a little nugget that I took away that is the only reason I remember anything in it. It’s this quote:

Google has turned commodification into a business strategy.

It’s through this quote (and through a Coursera course on a similar subject) that I started to understand why Google, the company, makes the decisions they make. The Coursera course was called Understanding Media by Understanding Google. During this course I had this specific a-ha moment. And I actually WOULD recommend the course, as it was quite intriguing, except it no longer exists and resides in the MOOC graveyard.

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But the premise of the theory (at least what stuck in my head) is pretty simple: Google exists to montetize data sets. Therefore they want data. Therefore they’ll build tools that are valuable to you so you’ll give them data. It all comes back to ads. Which is quite fascinating that it’s that simple.

At the time, Google Plus was very new and it gave me an insight into why Google Plus exists at all. You see, there’s a lot of data that you store on your Facebook page. What your interests are, who you are connected to, etc. At the time that Google Plus launched, it was assumed that Google wanted to compete with Facebook. And, of course, that isn’t true at all. They don’t want to be Facebook. They just want to have a similar profile snapshot of the type of data you would put on Facebook. So they built Google Plus and gave it some social features and some maybe something Facebook didn’t have at the time (circles) so people would be intrigued to use it. Why does Google Plus not get updated anymore? Because they already have the data from you they want. Similarly, why does Google Plus not get killed? Because it continues to bring in data they want. And now they force it on you by having a Google Plus account be the center cog in a Google Account wheel. It’s really fascinating stuff.

Today Google announced what is, again, a fun and intriguing tool called AutoDraw. You draw some squiggly lines and it uses AI to guess what you meant to draw.

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I have to admit that I played around with this tool for longer than I should have. But that’s because 1.) it actual is pretty neat technology and 2.) it almost feels like a game of pictionary. You want to know if it can guess what you are trying to draw.

And the reality is that it is a game. That’s exactly what Google wants. It wants you to play a game. It wants you to help improve the AI algorithms by drawing a bunch of doodles so it can get smarter. Does Google really want to improve drawing everywhere? Did Google find a specific weakness within the human race and thus felt compelled to solve a world problem? Or is Google creating a product that meets a market need of designers who need quick icons? Nah, none of those. Does it want to improve machine learning? Hell yes it does.

And if you don’t use AutoDraw, well then guess what? We’ve now forced it on you through CAPTCHA.

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Personally, it’s fun when you start to understand the underlying reasoning for why companies like Google do what they do because you become critical enough to question intent. But it’s also scary to think that how easily we allow ourselves to become the slaves for the tech giants as well. What is really nothing more than a bar trick is enough of a carrot to get us to help improve their technology.