I am entirely underwhelmed by the new Google Drive cloud storage service. In many ways, I can't believe it took this long.
We've been cramming our personal files in free corners of the web since the dawn of the commercial Internet. What are private websites, if not personal storage repositories? What of Geocities, Flickr, and the draft folder of every web-based e-mail client ever made?
"This looks like customer retention to me," muttered ZDNet editor-in-chief Larry Dignan to me earlier. And he's right. (I, along with CNET's Dan Farber and Josh Lowensohn, even said as much on last week's "Hot Topics" live webcast. See the end of this post.)
Google Drive and its ilk are entirely underwhelming to me because they are not inherently interesting products. They offer a service, sure -- but in an age where gigabytes are cheap, it is not in terribly high demand. Chances are high that you've found other places -- perhaps not as convenient, but still -- to stash your digital goods. Drive is a nice thing to have, if you're already a Google customer. But it's hardly going to cause waves of new customers to roll in.
Google Drive, then, is a customer lock-in device. The more stuff you cram into your five-gigabyte corner of Google's Internet, the less likely you are to leave it. You know why Facebook is so interested in photos of your friends, family and colleagues? It's not because it likes paying to keep all those servers online. It's because a precious few people are willing to leave all that behind.
The tech press will focus on Google Drive relative to Dropbox; if you are a Dropbox employee, you are most certainly concerned (in a very existential way). But that angle misses the greater point. This isn't about putting Dropbox out of business, or even taking its customers away. Google doesn't need either. This is about Google adding yet another black hole to its section of the universe, increasing the gravitational pull a few degrees. The Mountain View tractor beam gets a little more powerful.
(Aside: I find it fascinating that Google has shifted from a young tech company on offense -- "Here's an amazing new product that will make the Internet better and get us new customers" -- to a protectionist giant on defense, e.g. "Here's just enough product, perhaps pioneered elsewhere, that will keep users from leaving.")
Google has always said that it wanted your data. "Users rely on Google to produce and operate amazing technology products and to safely and responsibly store their data," co-founder and chief executive Larry Page wrote in the company's 2012 Founder's Letter.
There is nothing inherently amazing about Google Drive; its utility is that it is integrated with Google's other products. Without you and your data, Google has no business to build upon.