What if there were no Google? A lesson in monoculture

What if there were no Google? A lesson in monoculture

Summary: What if there were no Google?Now now, stop laughing -- seriously!

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What if there were no Google?

Now now, stop laughing -- seriously! What if Google and all of its products and services ceased to exist tomorrow?

How would you operate?

The Next Web's Devid Petherick asks that very question, and it's a scary thing to think about:

  • What search engine would you use if Google didn't exist?
  • Where would you host your personal e-mail if not for Gmail?
  • What would you do with your newly-bricked Google Android-powered T-Mobile G1? (Windows Mobile?)
  • How would your office function without Google Groups, Docs, Chat/Talk and Calendar?
  • How would you get from point A to B without the easy-to-use Google Maps? (Mapquest?)
  • How would you read online news if not for Google Reader or iGoogle?
  • How would sites with regularly-updated content (like this one) operate if not for Feedburner?
  • How would sites monetize that content without Google Adsense?
  • How would you track your finances without Google Finance? (Answer: ZDNet's sister site BNET)
  • How would you surf the Web on a Netbook without the lightweight Google Chrome browser?

...and so forth: YouTube, Google Alerts, Picasa, Google News search, Patent search, Google Code, Webmaster Tools, etc.

Frightening as it sounds, Big Poppa Google provides an incredible amount of integrated online and mobile services. So what if GoogleDaddy gets sick?

Would you just quit it all and go back to paper and pencil?

Or would a series of upstart companies fill those holes, springing to action like Mother Nature reclaiming land?

More, after the jump.

Yesterday, ZDNet editor-in-chief Larry Dignan warned us about the pitfalls of "monoculture" -- the near-complete reliance on a single vendor for a solution to a problem. Dignan's post was about Google's flagging of all search results as malware -- a security error -- but just imagine the implications if the problem spread company-wide. After all, Google search may be its biggest and most notable business, but it's just one of many services.

Dignan writes:

In security circles, monoculture is a key concept. Roughly speaking, whenever a technology–Windows for instance–is dominant it becomes a big target to attack. You attack the target and wreak a lot of havoc. Windows is a monoculture. If Windows is wrecked the damage is far and wide just because of market share.

But this isn't just a security problem -- this is a lifestyle problem; a productivity problem; the very ability for businesses to function.

Dignan, again:

The goal for every IT vendor is to become your monoculture...and the pressure for enterprises to become a monoculture is immense. How many times have you heard some CIO yapping about standardizing on one technology because it’s allegedly more cost effective? When it comes to vendors they want one throat to choke. The downside: What you save in costs and complexity you lose in immunity.

And no company integrates its services quite as well as Google does. So what if Google, king of free and open, ceased to exist tomorrow?

Are we talking about a massive meltdown?

Want to check your Gmail? Out of luck. The Gchat protocol is out, so you can't tell anyone Gmail doesn't work. Got your meeting notes on Google Docs? Sorry, they're gone. Where was that conference, anyway? Time to get a Google Map....wait, maybe just a normal map. Does anyone have a tangible map anymore? You could call someone, but it looks like your G1 doesn't work anymore.

Obviously, not everyone uses Google to this degree, but you can see how reliance on a single vendor makes a problem potentially systemic. It's the same problem that geneticists discuss with regard to biological weapons: if everyone's the same, it's much easier to wipe a population out.

Only in this case, it's all things tech.

We're still trying to figure this problem out. Previously, Microsoft was the scapegoat, but since 2003, Google has emerged as the dominant monoculture thanks to the proliferation of SaaS and cloud services.

Do you think you rely too much on a single vendor? Is there a downside to convergence? Tell me about it in TalkBack.

Topics: Operating Systems, Browser, Cloud, Collaboration, Google, Security, Software, Windows

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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Talkback

71 comments
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  • Ya'll are trying to hard...

    ...to invent the next Microsoft. You answered most of your own questions. If Google up and disappeared you'd just use the next service or the one you were using before Google came along. I tend to use Google heavily not because one product sucks me in but because I like their services. I can leave any one of them or all of them without much problem besides having to move some data in some cases.

    This is not the same case as Microsoft. For instance lets say I like the interaction between Exchange and Outlook but I don't care for MS servers. Well if I want Exchange and Outlook I'm going to need an MS server and desktop. If I like MSSQL vs Oracle then I need an MS Server and a desktop to use the management tool. I may like C# but if I want to use the up to date features of the .Net platform I'm going to need Visual Studio (though I like Eclipse) and again Windows desktop. Honestly that quickly became my problem with MS. If I like just one little piece of their technology it quickly spirals into me adopting their whole stack. Or if enough people like their technology you end up being forced to use it as well just to be compatible with everyone else. Sure its a great business practice for them but I don't care to be forced into using 10 products I can't stand just to use one that I like.

    You simply can't compare the two. Its far easier to leave Google than it is to get out of a MS entanglement.
    storm14k
    • I think you're looking at it the wrong way

      If Microsoft ceased to exist, you could just bootleg old Microsoft software, at least until competition was able to fill in the holes. After all, there would be no fear of repercussion if they weren't around to sue you. The only thing you'd lose in the short run are security patches, and even then more often than not you could find a workaround or use third party protection (or simple common sense).

      If Google ceased to exist, most of it is in the cloud, so it would simply vanish. You'd HAVE to find a next day replacement in that case. Not that it can't be done (of course it can, they're not THAT great) but in many cases you'd have to settle for inferior product until competition caught up.

      In either case, though, that list is more than just a stretch. I don't know anyone who uses Chrome except for me, and that's just because I have a G1 phone. And I never got lost using Mapquest or my GPS. And if my G1 phone got bricked, I'd get a refund from T-Mobile.
      Michael Kelly
      • Still a stretch though....

        The issue at hand from your standpoint is really the idea of the "cloud". Your data may be lost but thats a danger with Google or the next service you choose to replace it. Its not really a matter of having your eggs in one basket exactly. Nor would I say that competition really NEEDS to catch up to Google as if they don't offer the same services at a similar level. Using all of Google's services together is more about convenience than any major functionality benefit in my opinion.

        So I'd say this question is really about the cloud rather than Google or a monoculture.
        storm14k
      • Not bricked

        My Developer G-1 uses AT&T as its carrier. So while I would no longer have access to Google Maps (from the phone or any other computer), I'd still have a working phone. A working browser, etc. I have a gmail account but I never use it. I would continue to webmail into my real email account (which would continue to work), so no worries there either. I would use another map service but I would miss calendar alerts and the integration of the Google apps and their good fit to the G-1 screen, but I'd live.
        MarkCarson
    • Microsoft Entanglement

      storm14k,

      The Microsoft entanglement is the reason Google exists. Google is an advocate for open-source technology. They provide services with open-source distribution in mind. At Microsoft, they believe in closed-source technologies for better quality software to the consumer.

      If Google was not around, I agree, we would just use another service(s). However, if it wasn't for Google, we would see growth of Microsoft's model of holding secrets and selling them at a hefty price.

      Jeremy
      jwlankford
      • Google is advocating open source???

        I can't find the source code for their search engine, which in turn has made them a multi-billion dollar company via advertising, which the Linux geeks just turn off anyway, so how can they agree with Google's model of wasting the internet with advertising? <br><br>
        Simple, as long as it's not Microsoft, they are golden. <br><br>
        Yeah, they don't charge for their desktop product, just like MS doesn't charge for their browser or their media player. Are you going to use the source anytime soon from Google? Didn't think so, so it's effectively a moot point. <br><br>
        I agree with RMS, Google's search engine is a commercialized bit of software used by millions and they should be required to share that source. But they won't. They don't share the source with anyone where they are making their money. So i'm not sure how you say Google is an advocate for open source? They toss OSS a bone now and then and they eat it up, but they are "using" open source to make a lot of money w/o returning their discoveries back to the community. Sure they use Linux, a modified version of Linux, inhouse but they aren't sharing that with anyone.<br>
        If you and other choose to think it's anything but $$$ for Google, I have a bridge in Brooklyn you might be interested in.
        xuniL_z
    • I partially agree with one point you made.

      <i>Using all of Google's services together is more about convenience</i><br><br>
      And that is exactly why so many shops go with Windows, the convenience of one vendor and everything working together. Most sites Hate the idea of interfacing a potpouri of "best of breed" software. It's a maintenance nightmare, especially since you have to continually tweak interfaces as you add functionality across your heterogeneous systems. <br><br>
      And let's be honest, it provides great integration and economy of scale which in turn means very good ROI. A company should be able to have that choice but this is where you are right, it woudl be very hard to duplicate. Maybe impossible in the near term, but there are other choices for all main infrastructure needs. The world would not stop if MS shut down shop. It would carry on as a Windows world until it could be migrated. <br>
      <br>
      As for your statements(unrelated to Google or MS closing their doors, but just about their status as a monoculture) about being locked into a windows client if you want to run outlook and use exchange, that is not entirely true. Office 2008 for Mac would be a choice for you, so you could run a different client and still run outlook and support exchange. <br><br>
      You only need look at GPL v3 to see who is really hampering interoperability, or at least trying to. Luckily most intelligent people won't choose that path.
      xuniL_z
    • Much ado

      ... about nothing. Google's services are easily backed up. Keep a local copy of all mail, docs, feeds lists, etc. using daily scripts. If Google goes down, you migrate to Zoho, Vimeo, etc.

      This is no different than if your ISP or your music DRM provider suddenly disappears. Those are actually more worrisome, but no one seems to care about those.
      daengbo
    • You Are Correct, Sir..

      The same arguments are being used against Apple, when Apple got it's iPod/iTunes dominance solely on merit. Microsoft got handed their monopoly by IBM and have used it illegally restrict competition for decades since.

      But the problem isn't just semantics, I feel. The tech press has thoroughly supported Microsoft's dominance for decades and because of that they simply can't think of the OS space in terms of multiple competitors and healthy competition. Even as Apple makes gains, the tech press writes junk articles about how they will never command the 90% they claim Microsoft has, as if that matters, or was ever healthy or good for personal computing.

      Microsoft's monopoly has held back the state of the art for decades, and a majority of tech press types were perfectly happy to play along as long as they got a pat on the head from Bill G.
      His_Shadow
  • RE: What if there was no Google? A lesson in monoculture

    Microsoft! what else?
    ealgar
    • Microsoft?

      There are other contenders that would replace Google's competitive position against Microsoft. What about OpenOffice? or Yahoo? I have no doubt if Google wasn't around, Yahoo would have more power in the search results arena.

      Don't forget, Google's claim to fame outside of search technology was purchased, not invented. For instance, the Google Docs service was a purchased product from a start-up called "Write-On". I'm confident "Write-On" would still have standing ground against SaaS if Google wasn't around, maybe not as advanced.
      jwlankford
  • RE: What if there was no Google? A lesson in monoculture

    I dont even use google except for search. I used YouTube before it was ate up by G, but thats it. I've had a Hotmail account long before i had gmail, and i personally don't like gmail. Goggle Maps/Earth are fun to play with, but i mostly used mapquest before i got my Garmin in my car. I've been using a WinMo phone for the last 2 years and before that it was manuf OS's. Going with WinMo and Hotmail (now Live Mail), i have everything at my fingertips, and before that I used message/cal/address services using Kerio Mail Server/exchange support. Android has me interested, as Linux is great for appliances, and a mobile phone is just that, but its implementation is lacking and the hardware is fugly. Never used a netbook, but I don't think I'd use Chrome anyway as its still beta (like everything about google) and its not that impressive to start.

    Long story short. Google could go out of business today and I'd still have Microsoft/Kerio/Garmin/FireFox to fill the gaps that were never there.
    mjlaverty
    • Opinions about Google and its products may differ,

      but anyone who desires to be taken seriously should take more care to ascertain what the facts are. When [b]mjlaverty[/b] writes that he doesn't think he'd ?use Chrome anyway as its [[i]sic ![/i]] still beta?, while [b]Chrome[/b], unlike, e g, [b]IE 8[/b], has been out of beta for some time, he simply makes a public display of his ignorance....

      Henri
      mhenriday
  • RE: What if there was no Google? A lesson in monoculture

    I used to use Ask Jeeves... which it seems is now Ask. As for e-mail... many options available. Documents... same thing. So they go away, big deal since there are other competitors out there that are also not proprietary (as in run on multiple platforms and browsers) who cares. That's what the whole idea of competition is about. Right? ]:)
    Linux User 147560
  • RE: What if there was no Google? A lesson in monoculture

    I can always find a replacement application. But if one of these services goes kablooie with no warning, I would hope my critical data is backed up somewhere.
    R.L. Parson
  • Thank you for listing all the major services.

    I didn't think I relied on Google that much. Actually, I don't rely on them. I have a gmail account but it's just a way station for Thunderbird. I use the search a lot but there are other search engines that would do the trick. The other day, though, my granddaughter had GoogleEarth opened on her laptop. I said hey, do you want to see where I grew up? For the next half hour she heard stories of my childhood illustrated with GoogleEarth. It's an amazing tool for jogging the memories. I have also used it to gather data in two separate zoning disputes. If Google disappeared I would miss GoogleEarth the most.

    Other companies and individuals would fill the gaps if Steve Ballmer's Fairy Godmother granted him a single wish. Some of them would even do a better job in their niche than Google. Google is the best Google and the worst Google because they're the only Google. Having said that, I still can't imagine any other company doing a better job than they have.
    kozmcrae
  • You have got to be kidding...

    What search engine would you use if Google didn't exist? - PLENTY OTHERS TO CHOOSE FROM.

    Where would you host your personal e-mail if not for Gmail? - MSN, YAHOO, ETC.

    What would you do with your newly-bricked Google Android-powered T-Mobile G1? (Windows Mobile?) - WOULDN'T OWN ONE OF THEM ON A BET.

    How would your office function without Google Groups, Docs, Chat/Talk and Calendar? - DON'T USE IT. EVER HEARD OF THE TELEPHONE?

    How would you get from point A to B without the easy-to-use Google Maps? (Mapquest?) - WITH ANY OF DOZENS OF OTHER MAPPING PROGRAMS...OR GPS DEVICES.

    How would you read online news if not for Google Reader or iGoogle? - A MULTITUDE OF NEWS SOURCES OTHER THAN GOOGLE AVAILABLE ON THE WEB. STUPID QUESTION.

    How would sites with regularly-updated content (like this one) operate if not for Feedburner? - I'M SURE YOU WOULD FIND A WAY.

    How would sites monetize that content without Google Adsense? - WITH ANOTHER SEARCH ENGINE.

    How would you track your finances without Google Finance? (Answer: ZDNet?s sister site BNET) - ANOTHER STUPID QUESTION

    How would you surf the Web on a Netbook without the lightweight Google Chrome browser? - YOU'RE REALLY NOT SERIOUS...ARE YOU?

    Just how much Google stock do you own? Are they paying you to suck up to them?

    IT_Guy_z
    • A very logical

      and accurate list.

      Google is just one of many, nothing singular about them.
      GuidingLight
      • Thus you have found what is so awesome about google.

        They have no monopoly yet they still manage to dominate the search and online advertising market. Google is proof that a superior product can dominate without requiring a monopoly to grow and remain on top. Unlike many other companies Google competes fairly.
        T1Oracle
        • Google competes fairly?

          http://www.precursorblog.com/node/687 <br><br>
          That is just a taste of what Google is doing.
          <br><br>
          To me, when they redirected chinese web searches so as to add to the human injustice already prevalent in China, that was enough to know they are all about greed. <br><br>
          And the OSS zealots ate up their explanation that they must live by the law of the land they are operating in. Nope, that doesn't fly, if something is immoral and wrong in the face of a company, they simply don't do it. So i guess sergy and brin and Co. are openly for the oppression of mankind. <br><br>
          But the dealings with Mozilla, the many times they've used their army of lawyers to steal names that had been in existence for ages, because they conflicted with the letter "g". <br><br>
          Or the suit against them by kinderstart.org i believe it is...and all of the other websites they ban w/o discretion or explanation. <br><br>
          How about that their search results are for sale? <br><br>
          Yes, they are squeaky clean and a fair company that "does no evil". <br><br>
          If you ignore the fact they are greedier than any company that has ever existed. <br><br>
          Meanwhile we get 30 blogs in the last 6 months about how a certain interface buried in Vista's compmgmt.msc didn't have the right shade of color to be appealing to Linux users. who prefer the default turd brown of Ubuntu.
          <br><br>
          xuniL_z