I know this has been a topic that’s been discussed at length by many other folks. But a recent personal experience caused me to explore it further.
I recently transitioned my Blog from Google’s Blogger platform to WordPress.
Like most software transitions, it was a bit of work, and somewhat painful. Thankfully being from the software industry I have a bit more technical savvy than the average Blogger. I’m sure there are more than a few non-techie Bloggers who were pulling their hair out as a result of the very same transition that I went through – Because Google has made us do it.
By the way, I couldn’t have gotten through this painful transition to WordPress without great support from my Hosting Provider, ITX Design. If you are looking for a new webhost, I recommend them highly. Good prices and GREAT technical support. Special thanks to Melissa and Paul in ITX Design tech support; I’d have been up a river without a paddle without their expert assistance. Now back to the discussion of Google’s true colors.
Is software really ever free?
I’d been Blogging using the Google Blogger platform since February 2005. If I’m not mistaken, Google had just acquired Blogger, or did so shortly thereafter. At the time, you could already host your Blog on Google’s Blogspot hosting service for free, but Google seemed happy to allow you to also host it on your own website if you wished. For anyone using a Blog to help build a long-term presence on the web, including increasing SEO on your website, there really was no choice in the matter. You have to host it yourself.
I always wondered why Google was doing stuff like this–providing software for free, with no apparent major return on investment. As a software executive, I always found “free” software from a commercial enterprise to be an oxymoron. I understood how Google would benefit if my site was hosted on Blogspot; Google serves ads on your Blog in return for hosting it for free, and I presume they are also gaining additional market intelligence by tracking visitor activity and behavior on Blogspot Blogs. But what did they gain from allowing their software to be used by people who were hosting their own Blogs?
Apparently, not enough.
Google’s weak excuse
Google announced that they would no longer support FTP (and therefore self-hosted Blogger Blogs), the venerable protocol used for modifying content since nearly the beginning of Internet time. I really shouldn’t be surprised, since about three years ago all the new features for Blogger have been available only to Blogspot-hosted installations. I found their stated rationale for their decision was really curious. Google’s statement indicated that FTP was soaking up an outsized percentage of their resources. HUH?
Sorry Google, but it’s a bunch of HOOEY. Let’s face it; FTP couldn’t possibly be that big of a strain on their systems. It’s ridiculous. First of all, only a small number of Blogger Blogs are self-hosted; the great majority of them are hosted on blogspot. And there aren’t more well-tested or understood protocols around than FTP.
I guess from Google’s perspective they could justify their actions by saying that they are eliminating a “free ride” for people who aren’t providing enough in return for their use of Blogger. But I have a big problem with that–no one forced them to offer Blogger as a self-hosted platform to begin with. They never said it was “introductory” in nature, or gave any indication that they abandon users in the future. Besides, what about all that “Do No Evil” nonsense, which is supposedly the company motto?
Was this evil?
So was this “evil”? That is in the eye of the beholder, of course. Evil may be too strong a word in this case–but this certainly wasn’t what I could call “good”. Google left a bunch of people high and dry, and the only possible reason they did it is to force people onto the Blogspot hosting platform so they can sell more advertising. That doesn’t fit my definition of supporting a free, open, non-proprietary Internet–which Google purports to be all about in most of their PR-oriented public initiatives.
If they were going to abandon people for their ridiculous, stated reason that FTP support was overwhelming them–then don’t let me use your software on my own website in the first place. I would have used WordPress or one of many other options in the first place, and would have saved myself a great deal of trouble. One reason I actually chose Blogger initially was because I believed that they would be around, and continue to support the platform. How wrong I was. I find this situation the definition of bait and switch, and one which has caused a bunch of people a whole lot of grief.
It’s not Larry and Sergey in the Menlo Park apartment anymore…
I really don’t question the sincerity of Larry Page and Sergey Brin with respect to their “Do No Evil” credo. But Google is a very BIG company now, and “corporate” decisions usually aren’t based on morality. The bigger a company gets, the less likely any one person’s individual morality will effect any given decision taken within the company. There’s lot’s of pressure to make money in individual business units, especially in tough economic times, and as a company’s original differential advantage fades.
Everything at Google must support advertising, in some way shape or form. Otherwise, I’m sure it very hard to justify the expense. There are a whole bunch of managers beyond original two founders are making big decisions now, and I’m pretty sure that the decision to eliminate FTP support from Blogger didn’t even make it very high up Google’s management totem pole.
So does Google really “Do No Evil” at this point? Did they ever, or was it just bluster or marketing? In my mind, this is a question that’s very much still open to debate. My personal feeling is that they are just a big company like many others, run by people with a variety of agendas–and a lot of presure to maximize profits. That doesn’t always lead to what everyone considers “good”.
So that’s my personal experience with Google–what’s yours? Many of you have your own experience with or thoughts on this industry giant; post a comment or a question to activate a discussion.