What Google’s Doing: Just for a Second Pretend that I’m a Huge Idiot

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Pretend I’m a huge idiot. I’ll make it easy for you.

Here’s what I get. In the past two weeks, Google has announced two very similar initiatives: a new applications development environment for social networks, and a new applications development environment for cell phones. Obviously, I’m not a developer, so I’m not in a position to evaluate the actual usefulness of what they’ve got. But I do see what they’re doing: introducing free, open platform-like products into closed, fragmented sectors in the hope that they will be embraced and create free, open standards in said sectors.

What I don’t get is why Google is doing this. (Stay with me here. Remember: huge idiot.) I mean, I get that they’re doing it to make money, and that they aspire to do so in non-evil ways (yes, I actually believe this about Google.) But how does the money-making happen, exactly? I’ve heard it argued two ways.

One, Google believes that free, open standards are inherently good, and create better experiences for consumers, thus creating more traffic/usage, which Google can sell ads against. Step three: profit.

Two, these are defensive moves, designed to suck oxygen away from competitors. You’ve got a fancy social network? We’ll help your rivals by making it easier to develop applications for their networks. You sell operating systems for phones? OK, but see what we did here: we just gave away an operating system for phones. It didn’t cost us that much to make or support this stuff, but it’s good for consumers and measurably injures you.

And we have scooters! Look at our beautiful scooters!

I guess both one and two could be true at the same time, and probably are. But is there a third option? What am I missing? Interesting how old-school and Microsoft-like Google’s strategy is here, undercutting somebody with a free product because they can. And because it’s all open source, it plays to the world as good, not evil. Yay for good!

OK, now stop pretending I’m an idiot.