This week’s Tech Tuesday is all about Google. Think the title is exaggerating a bit? Not so fast! We all know about Google’s mainstream applications like Gmail, Google Talk and Google Docs, and I recently wrote about the new Google Buzz, but you may not know about Google’s less advertised initiatives. Google has seeds planted in many large, well-established industries like internet service and public utilities. Are they setting themselves up to take over your world? You be the judge!
Currently, if someone wants to reach you, there is a slew of numbers they’d have to try: your work phone, your home phone, your cell, etc. Google Voice, formerly known as GrandCentral, simplifies things by giving you a single number you can set up to relay calls to any (or all) of the others – truely one number to rule them all. Not content to just be a simple call forwarding service, Google Voice also offers a host of other features not offered by most telcos: call screening so you can decide which calls you want to answer, voicemail transcripts sent via SMS or email, number blocking for those pesky stalkers and collection agencies, and the list goes on.
That said, Google is not a telecom company and you still need a working phone line in order to use the Google Voice service. Or do you? Google recently acquired Gizmo5 which offers calling service to traditional phone lines for very low prices as long as you have an internet connection. Additionally, Gizmo5 can tie in to Skype, the perennial favorite Voice-Over-IP communication service, offering a very nice all-around package. The only catch is that Gizmo5 is currently closed to new users, but when they re-launch they will definitely be a force to contend with (you can sign up for Gizmo5 notifications here).
Google Voice is currently in Beta testing. You can request an invite here, or leave a constructive comment below and I may send you an invite if I’m feeling generous. 🙂
Google as your ISP
Google has a new experimental project this year to test ultra high-speed fiberoptic broadband networks of up to 1Gbps in select neighborhoods. No, that was not a typo, we’re talking 1 GIGAbit per second here folks! Finally cable companies may have some legitimate competition! You can submit a request to have your city or neighborhood be one of the test markets by applying here (through March 26).
Google as your… electric company?!
Sound far-fetched? Consider this: Last Thursday Google received approval from the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to buy and sell energy on a wholesale basis. A spokesperson for Google said this will give Google “more flexibility in procuring power for Google’s own operations.” This approval also allows Google to approach producers of renewable energy directly. Makes sense as their data centers must be huge consumers of energy, and Google has said in the past that it is committed to being “carbon neutral.”
Now consider this: Bloom Energy is a renewable energy company headed by CEO and co-founder K.R. Sridhar. They recently appeared on CBS’s 60 Minutes to unveil their product, dubbed “Bloom Energy Servers” or more affectionately “Bloom Blocks” (not to be confused with Steven Spielberg’s Wii game “Boom Blox”), which can mix oxygen with bio-fuels such as natural gas to create electricity much more efficiently than current methods. Just 2 of these Blocks, which literally fit in your hands, can (theoretically) power the average US home 24/7/365! Best of all, they are very scalable and can be stacked to power even the largest data centers. Bloom Energy has been piloting the devices for the past year, and guess who was the first company to sign up. You got it – Google! In addition, they have numerous other big-name corporations in their pilot program including eBay, FedEx, Walmart, Staples, Coca-Cola, Bank of America and Cox Communications. They also have support from politicos like the Governator and Gen. Colin Powell (Ret.). With that level of support, its obvious this is not some fly-by-night start-up; this company has some mighty big ambitions!
This is an interesting contrast to Bill Gates’ recent TED Talk on clean energy. Bill goes for the top-down approach, promoting alternative ways to produce cleaner nuclear energy; Google seems to be taking the bottom-up approach, promoting clean energy at the consumer level. I expect big changes ahead with these two powerhouses driving the green effort from both ends of the spectrum!
Now, we can already assume Google will be buying energy in bulk for their own needs, and so far they are the only company in Bloom’s pilot program with approval to re-sell energy. Is it that much of a stretch to see them turn around and re-sell this energy to consumers? If there’s any company out there with the ambition and financial ability to take on the gigantic public utilities companies, it’s definitely Google. What do you guys think?
OMG Google Really Is Everywhere!
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Google let’s its employees spend 20% of their time working on personal projects, so there are certainly numerous other initiatives going on that have not gotten any publicity at all. Google, getting as big as it is, has already had its share of privacy complaints, as well as attracted the attention of antitrust investigators in the EU. This is definitely not an anti-Google article however. I am very much in favor of their policy towards using open standards and find their overall philosophy a breath of fresh air. Can they maintain their Jedi status without succumbing to the Dark Side? The skeptic in me has doubts, but the optimist in me is definitely hopeful.
I want to close out this week’s Tech Tuesday by sharing with you a video by Jesse Thomas called “The State of the Internet.” See you next week and don’t forget to leave me your thoughts below!