Google is fighting an unwinnable war with Microsoft over its cloud email product. In a blog post earlier today, the company invites any US student to join its Google Voice service, which is currently in a limited preview and not fully open to the public.
Yet anyone with a qualifying .edu (a US university) email address can guarantee receiving an invitation. Though honestly, students will get no real benefit from the service from an academic or productivity point of view, as the product itself is not even closely designed with students in mind.
Both companies are keeping quiet and are at press stalemate with each other over figures and number of users to both their email and collaboratory suites - Google Apps for Education and Microsoft's Live@edu. Both Microsoft and Google are fluffing the figures pillow to their advantage in effort to sound better than the other, without giving too much detail away. Should they be any more specific, and they lose the potential upper hand tactics in the race to gain more students.
- Read more: Universities choose Microsoft over Google
- Read more: UC Davis scraps Gmail: Privacy levels 'unacceptable'
- Read more: UMass discontinues Google Apps (external)
Microsoft is battling ahead, and the negative press around two high profile universities ditching Google in favour for Live@edu has hit the company hard. Enter their next approach of offering Google Voice to the academic community, and what I see more likely is a potential last ditch effort in winning around the student vote.
I cannot deny that Google Voice offers promising features for those of an enterprise user or a business customer - a consolidated number, voicemail, Google contacts integration and conference calling - as well as some features which are perhaps useful to students, though not intended; free (US only) text messaging and listening/reading to voicemail online or from any phone for example.
But surely this could easily be seen as Google trying to do anything to keep a vote of confidence from its student users?
After asking Google a number of questions - which I might rightly point out that the majority of them were not answered satisfactorily or even directly, their attempt to grapple with the privacy issues and manage the public relations spin angle shows more about their own company insecurities than anything else.
Take this as a perfect example. See the two sentences and see if you can spot the mistakes.
"Today we’ve reached another milestone — 8 million students, faculty and staff around the world have gone Google. To put this in perspective, the U.S. has about 16 million college students total.
8 million students worldwide and 16 million students in the US do not equate as half the US student population, though it isn't always as obvious when you skim read over it - which they probably hoped you did. It isn't the first time I have criticised this particular mention, admittedly. Oh, and just for a laugh:
"With this kind of growth, we expect a lot of quick change. Some schools choose Apps for students (UC Davis)"...
Because as those who read last week, only a month after this was posted by Google, UC Davis pulled the plug on their pilot citing 'unacceptable safeguards' in regards to the privacy of students' communications. The University of Massachusetts pulled a similar move in discontinuing their Google Apps service for "unknown reasons" though many students have simply opted to not use the service altogether.
Only a few minutes ago, their blog updated with a post which acknowledged that open home wireless network data was collected by their Street View cars as they took photos of residential streets. How they managed to 'incorrectly' publish their initial statement which backtracks on what they initially said astounds me. Larry Dignan has more on this (with emphasis on the very last word of the article).
No wonder world-leading universities don't trust Google with their privacy.
Admitting failure is not an option in the business world. To do as such can completely negate the credibility and respect for that company or organisation, so I don't expect Google to hold their hands up and accept their errors.
But in the matter of weeks, journalists and businesses (universities are included in this) have almost single-handedly killed off Docs (pretty much), Apps for Education, and their Nexus One online store.
I, as a Generation Y member, am starting to doubt the morals, values and incentives of companies like Google and Facebook. I believe that not before long, a 'privacy revolution' led by a coalition of the younger generations could well be the end of such web-giants. That is, if the governments don't indict them first.