Waiting For Google
If you believe all the news you read, you just have to wait a little longer for Google to fix everything that's wrong with cellphones and social networking.
First, the search engine/software provider/source of all things good online is supposedly on the verge of announcing its own cell-phone operating system. This new software would run all of Google's existing mobile applications but would also provide outside programmers with full access to a phone's features, allowing them to write any program they want.
That's the hype. Here's the reality check:
* There are already plenty of cellphones that allow developers to write programs without getting them cleared by a wireless carrier -- see, for example, Palm's Treo and Centro phones and all the devices running Microsoft's Windows Mobile operating system.
* You can also buy phones that are free of hardware locks to a single carrier -- just buy an unlocked, unsubsidized GSM phone. Nokia has an entire store in Manhattan stuffed with those things.
* Unless Google has delivered the Holy Grail of wireless telecom, a phone with a software-defined radio that could function on any available network, any "gPhone" would still limit you to choosing between one of the two worldwide wireless standards: CDMA (used here by Verizon Wireless and Sprint) and GSM (AT&T and T-Mobile).
Google is also reportedly about to shake up the world of social networking. This morning, the TechCrunch blog reported that Google will launch a set of programming initiatives that would let people write software that ties into multiple social networks. This "OpenSocial" system would, theoretically, increase the number and variety of applications you could add to your profile page on different social-networking sites.
Sounds great, no? But:
* According to that TechCrunch report, neither of the two biggest social networks -- Facebook and MySpace -- have signed up for this OpenSocial deal.
* Google's own venture into social networking, Orkut, has been a failure almost worldwide.
* I see little in this and other reports to suggest that Google's initiative would make things easier for users of social-networking sites, as opposed to developers of software for them. It's nifty if programmers get tools that let them code up new Web widgets in less time, but what I'm really interested in are ways for me to spend less time updating all of these sites with the same info.
* A big factor behind all this OpenSocial interest seems to be a desire not to let Facebook control social networking. But would letting the world's most influential Web site provide your Web-widget development toolkit necessarily solve the problem of one company running things?
Before we all welcome our new Google "overlords," we might be better off nagging the companies already responsible for the software and hardware Google will supposedly fix.
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