The Librarian in Black wrote this post several days ago regarding Google’s (relatively) new iGoogle personalised homepage service. This is, of course, actually just a modernisation of something Google have been running for some time now. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, if you have a Google account (i.e. Gmail or one of the other services) you can now sign in to your own “homepage” (based, inevitably, around the Google search engine), with options for adding widgets (often 3rd party software), RSS feeds and alike to show up on the same page when you head for “home” in your browser. Basically, it’s mash-ups made easy. As far as I can see, the biggest difference between the previous Google personalised home and “iGoogle” is the addition of personal themes (banners, etc.) and the option to add your post-code so that the “weather” in the theme changes with the predicted weather in your postcode area.

If you read the linked post above, you’ll see the scepticism with which LiB treats this development. Fair enough – I see her point. She’s concerned that the uber-corporate giant that is Google is taking over the world and you’re helping them to do it by signing up to these services which allows “our data to be harvested” even more than it is currently. I sympathise to a certain extent – the retention of personal details, be it the searches we conduct (particularly in combination with our location details) or whatever, is something we’re all suspicious about (to varying extents) when on the Internet. Hence the mass of firewalls and anti-malware gadgets many of us run in order to prevent intrusion and hacking on our own PCs. I don’t think anyone likes the idea that they’re being spied on, watched, studied, call it what you will – that’s a perfectly understandable, natural reaction I’d say.

However, let’s look at this from another perspective – a user perspective, a “consumer” perspective. What Google have done here is make it easy for anyone with one of their accounts to centralise services that they use on a regular basis. You can have a little box showing your Gmail inbox (without logging on) so you know if you’ve got new mail, links to Google maps, AltaVista’s Babel-fish translator, news stories from varying sources, and even “sticky notes” that you can write on to remind you of your daily tasks. Oh, and it looks nice!! Always a bonus. Personally, I find the benefits of having a plethora of services I use on a regular basis in one place far outweigh the worries I have that Google know I’ve been searching for Oakley sunglasses and cheap flights to the continent. I suppose it’s a matter of convenience. The fact that I can get my regular services in one place, at a glance, means that I can maximise the time I spend on other things like work, or writing this post, because I don’t have to faff about flicking between windows or tabs. I guess I value anything that helps me be more productive.

Furthermore, as far as I can see (looking from the outside in) Google isn’t exactly queuing up to give away our data, as their rejection of a US government attempt to access a week’s worth of search results shows. I’m sure someone can (and will) argue the case against Google in the civil liberties arena (most probably in relation to their conduct in the Chinese market), but my limited knowledge on the subject hasn’t yet freaked me out to the point where I’m locking my computer in a safe and sending all my correspondence by snail-mail.

I could draw parallels with other big businesses, and indeed I will! The UK superstore giant Tesco has been around for years. I remember going as a kid, picking up the weekly shop with my parents. Since then they have grown and developed into the market leader, with massive growth (in both profits and in terms of the markets they compete in). This didn’t just happen over night. There has to be a reason for this growth. Of course there is… it’s you and me, and the millions of other people who have shopped, do shop and will shop there. People go back to somewhere for a service or as a consumer because they cater for demand. They’ve listened to their customers, analysed data about purchases, trends and alike and offered people what they want at prices they can afford/are willing to pay. This isn’t an advert for Tesco or Google, just in case you’re wondering. It’s just what is happening. Google are evidently no different. I doubt they would have offered the “iGoogle” capability if they thought no-one would use it. Supply and demand shape markets, and it’s just the same in the information/Web-based world.

O f course, if people don’t use these services they will eventually cease to exist – that surely stands to reason. If you object to Google’s approach to providing services for us then it’s very simple – don’t use them. Go somewhere else. Nobody’s forcing you to, say, have an iGoogle account, a MySpace page or whatever, but give those of us who do use these services a little credit. Just because we make use of something that’s available to us doesn’t mean we haven’t thought about the consequences of our actions. For those of us that have taken into account the pros and cons and taken the easy option (as some will no-doubt brand it) it isn’t out of laziness or through some form of herd mentality. It’s because we’ve seen something that’s useful for us and taken advantage. It’s a matter of choice.

Maybe I am lazy, maybe I’m naive… or maybe, just maybe, I’m just a little less paranoid than some. You decide!