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MUSINGS: Hooked on Google

MUSINGS: Hooked on Google

"I'm worried that we are becoming too reliant on Google"

Somewhat to my surprise I've become a very committed user of a huge number of Google products as have, I suspect, many of you. While some of these products are what we might call "safe" to rely on, there's a whole other set that we're handcuffed to and when they're not available ... well, that can be a really big problem.

For example, Google applications such as Picasa are "safe". Sure, they might crash or have a bug, but it's unlikely your life will come to a grinding halt should one of them go "thud" for some reason.

I must digress for a moment and note that if you use SketchUp in any serious way you have to get IMSI's Renditioner, a SketchUp add-on that takes SketchUp models and provides photorealistic rendering (the VW bus example in the gallery is outstanding). I've just started play- ... er, testing this tool and it is incredible.

But the more critical Google products that have snagged many of us are the company's online services. These are the tools we're addicted to. We're like junkies who can't function without our services "fix."

For example, I still route most email via my gibbs.com domain, but my email client for 99.9% of my messaging is Google's Gmail (I still use Outlook for a couple of accounts where Microsoft Office integration is useful). And then there's Google Calendar and Google Voice ... I can't live without either of them.

About a week ago I sat down to do some work. I checked Gmail and answered some messages then went to add an event to my calendar ... and nothing. It just timed out. And so did iGoogle! And so did Google itself! And this happened whether I was using an OS X machine or a Windows box.

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And what was really weird was that my inability to see parts of Google affected other online services. For example, part of Twitter's user interface uses the jQuery JavaScript library and so the UI just sat there, sulking, in my browser until it timed out and gave me an error.

My first thought was that it must have been my problem. If I could get to Gmail then surely all of those other services should be accessible.

Was it something wrong with my DSL modem? I cycled the power on it but that made no difference. OK, then let's power cycle all the hardware; DSL modem, firewall, switches, routers, PCs, coffee pot, toaster ... nope, no change.

After over two hours of going around and around in circles and doing everything I could think of other than praying to St. Jude (the patron saint of desperate cases and lost causes), suddenly everything was fine! I hadn't done anything, it just all straightened itself out and every Google service was visible and working just fine.

I have no idea what the problem was but I suspect some ISP between me and Google had serous problems because Google's Apps dashboard didn't show there had been anything wrong. What it made me think about was that our reliance on Google's services - and, by extension, the growing raft of cloud services -- is huge and potentially dangerous.

What happens if Google ever has a serious network infrastructure problem? What happens if one or more of the Google services develops a serious bug? What happens if there's a weak link between you and the Google cloud? What happens if the problem lasts a day? A week?

I'm worried that we are becoming too reliant on Google and, one of these days, we could find ourselves cut loose from our fix for just a little too long. What then? What will you do? What are you doing now to make sure that doesn't happen to you?

Gibbs is connected in Ventura, Calif. Link up to backspin@gibbs.com.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.


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