I’ve decided that what Google is doing is the Web services-version of AOL’s once-formidable “walled garden” strategy.
In the walled garden, users had to log in and stay within the AOL service—making the challenge for AOL one of constantly adding new features to entice loyal usage, a virtually impossible task when the Web was exploding with new voices—and the wall was slowly torn down by the diversity of destinations a user selected to visit while online.
In Google’s “secret garden” strategy, the company hopes to engage users through a variety of free services that allow it to collect information about individuals in order to better target advertising. The secret is the fact that your explicit relationship with Google, that is the times you search and create an ad-placement opportunity, is orchestrated by all the non-explicit contacts you provide Google to information about you. It slowly extracts your information, building a portfolio of value based on that information and leaving you a ghost of your former private self that is unaware of the deep dependency on Google for access to information.
The danger is that, as the primary enabler of content monetization, Google’s role verges on that of social and intellectual Leviathan, the imperial institution that exerts total power in exchange for bringing and preserving order.