Google, Love You, Love You Not, Love…

As a working journalist, I am conflicted about Google. In my ebook Responsible Reporting: Field Guide for Bloggers, Journalists, and Other Online News Gatherers, I call the company a “leech that feeds off the intellectual property of legitimate content producers” and rail on the Google free economy’s negative impact on the Fourth Estate. That said, I am a huge consumer of the company’s products and services, which enable me to better do my job and that empower my life.

Something else: A decade ago (yes, 2005), I identified “Search as the New User Interface“—and it has proved to be for a generation of computer users. The UI, particularly from Google, helps to democratize content, and so doing empowers (there’s that “e” word again) everyone. But search also encourages content piracy. Philosophically, I strongly believe in information for all. Economically, I want to earn a living from writing, which is much more difficult in 2015 than 2005.

Profound Toolset
I ended last year as an Apple user: iPad Air, iPhone 6, and MacBook Pro with Retina Display, On the one hand, the platform provides amazing creative tools that are perfect for someone like me. On the other hand, I missed the amazing and enabling integration, sync, and search capabilities when living a pure Google lifestyle.

A few weeks into the new year, I sold my MBP and returned to Chromebook, after a six-month hiatus. During that time, I did not use Google’s browser but Safari on iOS and OS X or Internet Explorer on Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone, while curtailing my use of other Google products or services—at first for need since they were limited on Nokia Lumia Icon and Surface Pro 3.

Mine is a return to Google’s embrace, despite criticism and misgivings about the company. My daily tech: Chromebook Pixel laptop, Moto 360 smartwatch, Nexus 6 smartphone, and Nexus 9 tablet. Using that “e” word yet again, the Google lifestyle empowers me.

Google search and other tools are indispensable to my research, which is more than gathering information but verifying authenticity—something I consider essential to my efforts to report news accurately and responsibly. Sometime soon, I will review Chromebook Pixel and Moto 360, and (spoiler alert) my reaction is fairly positive.

However, search is an even newer user interface because of capabilities like voice interaction or services such as Google Now. For example, I use voice search dozens of times a day. Saying “OK, Google” to initiate search from my smartwatch is hugely convenient, liberating, and (that “e” word again) empowering. But I will just as easily command my laptop or smartphone. The capability, among others I cherish, is more accessible from Android or Chrome OS devices than Apple or Microsoft platforms running Google applications or accessing their connected services.

Millennials are my measure for the direction interactive technologies are going, what they mean, and what they could be. Three days ago, I posted the last profile, with college student Monica Kong, in the serialization of my ebook Comic-Con Heroes: The Fans Who Make the Greatest Show on Earth. She describes “voce-command features” as “a start in regards to our devices becoming smarter and responding to senses other than touch, but I think it’d be much neater to have our devices respond to our thoughts. Once we’ve bridged that gap, then I’d say they’ll be truly indispensable”.

True, we’re nowhere near such capability, but the utility I get from connected Google services tightly tied to Android and Chrome OS devices already feels much like an extension of my being. I work faster and produce better content, since returning to the Google lifestyle.

Trade-off’s Benefits
All the while, angst remains for the reasons stated at this post’s start. The Fourth Estate is in turmoil, as the forces that would free information for all clashes with the status quo seeking to control it. Profit and power are the center around which they orbit—Google creating economy around free content it does not own and content monopolists fighting to preserve their hegemonies. In June 2009 analysis “Iran and the Internet Democracy“, I explained how then three-year-old social services like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube threatened news monopolies of power. They still do.

As April 1st approaches, and I look at the three quarters of the year ahead, my philosophical mind and personal mores rise above the desire to protect my livelihood. Google is for me—and daring to admit it, most likely for you, too—a necessary utility. There’s nothing pure about Google’s motivations, or any public company: Generating profits for shareholders is the primary objective. Fortunately, Google is an information, and not a search, company. Democratizing information and enabling people to better access it anytime, anywhere, and on anything is the means. There, our agendas align.

I am a better journalist and storyteller, because of my Google lifestyle—and I remember something that younger writers and other content producers wouldn’t: How hard the process of gathering, sourcing, and authenticating news used to be. Those three responsibilities and another remain: gather, source, authenticate, and report. Search and supporting research tools make skipping steps easy, particularly for people taught to put pageviews before all us. The easy way is ruinous for your career, your audience, and the public trust.

If you are a blogger or journalist, these past posts of mine lay out some of the ethical quandaries before you, the responsibility entrusted to you, and Google’s influence on your professional livelihood:

I still will love and hate Google on most days. Love for how I am (uh-oh, the “e” word alert) empowered. Hate whenever reading blog posts or news reports that spread rumor and misinformation; those putting pageviews and gaming Google search before reporting responsibly—that is to write what you know to be true based on original, first-hand sourcing.

Photo Credit: Trey Ratcliff