Something interesting is happening in the attitude of the technical press toward Google. There is a deep bitterness about the way that Google killed their most important tool without even saying sorry. Now even Google fanboys are doubting that they can ever trust it again. This is a lesson to all open source and other free software creators.
It seems like bad timing that just after Google listed the services they were about to cut they announced Google Keep - a service that lets users take notes. Of course, Keep is for free but the question on everyone's mind at the moment is it for keeps.
A number of reviews of the new software have concentrated on why users should stay away from it rather than any positive qualities it might have. Take, for example, the review by Om Malik at Gigaom. Its title tells you right away that all is not well: Sorry Google; you can Keep it to yourself but the summary makes it very clear:
"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Google may think it can waltz into a market that Evernote and others have staked out, but I’m not going to dance"
Later we have:
".. it is hard to trust Google to keep an app alive."
and the question we all want answered:
"And by the way – how is this app strategic for you guys and Reader is not? A little clarity would certainly be appreciated."
The bottom line is that Evernote has a lot riding on its note-taking app but Keep isn't core to anything Google is doing, so guess which one will be around in the future.
If you want to know more about Keep, watch the promo video:
The comments on the Keep video also reiterate the lack of trust:
Will "Google" keep "Google Keep" ?
google keep google reader
hello users, sorry but we can't keep keep
and so on...
You can see that an app called "Keep" isn't a clever move on Google's part.
Only a few months ago, any new Google product would have been reviewed on its merits, with a little skepticism thrown in from some quarters. But now it seems that the general transience of Google's free apps and services has finally started to be taken into account.
The feeling is nicely summed up by The Joy of Tech
What is expressed less often in the reviews is the way that Google distorts the market with its free offerings. In this case the technical journalists may be recommending that users give Keep a miss, but users find it hard to turn down a free lunch - even when there are people telling them that there is no such thing.
What will this launch do to Evernote and other developers of note taking software. Google is the 200lb Gorilla that can smash its way into a market and watch the competition whither. Where does this leave the user when the free service is withdrawn? What does this to the market niche that Google has trampled? In the long term this is not good.
Google isn't the only company using its might to test out the waters of a niche market only to pull the plug if it doesn't suit. Microsoft is currently dismantling lots of technologies that most programmers expected to survive for much longer - Silverlight, XNA, perhaps WPF and even .NET in the longer term. Look for reassurances that any of these technologies has a future and you will find none. The same behavior can be seen when on-line services such as Facebook and Twitter change their API or the terms of their API to capture some profitable area that they initially missed out on.
One solution is for any company offering a free service is to pledge some form of continuity either by keeping the service running at a loss or by open sourcing the code. This would deter some from offering a completely free service at all and would at least make the gorillas consider what they were doing.
So will users keep clear of Google's latest offering simply because tech journalists lost their best toy?
Probably not ... but they should.
One thing that is very clear - Google's image is that of a company that dumps products, even very good products, without really thinking too hard about it.