Is Google all over the map?

By January 12, 2008

Keeping up with the innovation mill at Google is a full time job. Have you ever wondered what happens after the splash of the announcement has died down? We selected three Google news items and tracked their progress: coupons in G

oogle Maps, the storage platform Gdrive and the investment into renewable energy research.   Every time you turn around, the Internet juggernaut is announcing a new program or beta. In December alone, dispatches from the Googleplex heralded Google Knol (a wannabee Wikipedia-killer app accessible by invitation only which would let users share their knowledge as well as the revenues generated by the ads placed next to their entries), a new version of Google Talk (a PC-to-PC and instant messaging platform) and even Google Profile (a centralized profile system to share your personalized information across Google products).   We wanted to dig into three recent, or less recent, announcements to see how they were coming along. We first asked Google to give us an update. “Unfortunately, we can’t tell you much,” came the response. « We don’t comment on potential projects or projects in the works. » OK, that was not very helpful. So we went digging around to see what we could find on our own.     Local coupons, an in-road into the local search business   The availability of printable online coupons on Google Maps was made public back in August 2007. Yet, several months later, Internet users have to look really hard to get their hands on one of those coupons of the Internet age. As of the end of December, there were only 444 users registered to use the service (it is necessary to sign up for Google Subscribed Links for the coupons to show up in the search results).   Here is the promise from Google: “When searching for local information, discount coupons from businesses are now displayed on Google Maps search results and business listing pages. These coupons can be printed out directly from a computer and redeemed at a physical store location of a neighborhood or local business.” That sounds like a win-win situation with users finding relevant information leading to some hard-cash savings and business driving online traffic to their doorstep. At this stage, Google is working with Valpak, a direct marketing company, and participating businesses have to be Valpak advertisers for their coupons to show up on Google Maps.   “I do think this feature has potential as a piece of a larger project, but I am in doubt that it will gain any traction on its own,” wrote Garett Rogers on his Googling Google blog.  What do you think?  Will businesses learn of this service on their own?  And if they do, will they use it?”   There has been much hoopla about the promise of local search since people have become used to turning to the Internet for every question that comes up in their life from a restaurant recommendation to any type of shopping need under the sun. Delivering geographically-targeted results is, of course, something Google is good at. So these coupons make a lot of sense. It also makes sense to keep a project low-key while working the details out. But no news six months after first announcing the project? Come on, give us something.   For Internet users and shoppers, there is more information here. For business owners, the place to go is Google’s Local Business Center.     Storing 100% of our data on GDrive….some day soon   Others have chronicled Google’s long-rumored online storage platform, code named Platypus or GDrive, which was first “announced” or rather leaked in 2006. From unauthorized prototype pages to a mention in a company presentation about “a place for users to store 100% of their data online”, there have been lots of speculations about GDrive which is apparently being used internally by Google employees. Most recently, the Wall Street Journal wrote that the service could be available by 2008. Yet, Google is staying numb. “We are always looking for ways to improve our applications, particularly our storage capabilities. But we have nothing more to announce at the moment,” a Google spokesperson told us. Again, that’s not very helpful.   Google is already in the storage business with its Web-based Google Docs suite of applications, its Gmail email service and its photo-sharing Picasa. GDrive would presumably be a more comprehensive solution that would let users store an unlimited amount of data in one place and retrieve it on the Internet using a computer or a mobile device. Commentators have raised concerns about privacy, copyright issues and rates.   In the two years since rumors started circulating about GDrive, competitors have not sat still. As the Wall Street Journal points out, Microsoft is testing a service called Windows Live SkyDrive (one gigabyte of free storage). Other competitors include, and by AOL.     Google wants to save the world   Long famous for his ambiguous motto “Do no evil”, Google now sounds determined to do some serious good. Last November, the company made a big splash when it announced a R&D and investment effort designed to come up with renewable energy technology that would rival the price of coal. Google’s Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal (or RE<C for short) will invest hundreds of millions of dollars in the effort. While’s executive director Larry Brilliant acknowledged that a lot of great work was being done in that field, he said there was an urgent need to fund more projects in order to reach results faster.   Back in November, announced it was working with two companies: eSolar Inc. which is looking into solar thermal power and Makani Power Inc. which plans to harness the wind in high-altitude spots. No new collaborations have been announced. On its renewable energy page, Google still displays postings for jobs related to the program. The company also publicizes its current effort in reducing its own carbon footprint or its participation in the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, “a group which advocates the design and adoption of less wasteful computing infrastructure”. Saving the world is certainly a big job and won’t be achieved overnight. As the Silicon Valley is consumed by a green fever, it is of course popular and good for one’s image to talk a big talk about one’s efforts to develop renewable energy. Let’s continue following Google’s progress on its announced goals.   On his first post of the New Year, Garett Rogers takes a guess at what Google has in store for the coming months (GDrive makes the list as a wish rather than a done deal).   Isabelle Boucq   FEEDBACK For comments on this article, email us at

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