The Google Reef

Today I’ll be at Google to attend the press release of the Nexus One, the latest in a line of Android-powered phones and the first that will have Google’s brand name on it.

I don’t expect that the phone will be the real news (if you do, you can already read Engadget’s review and other news about it on Techmeme).

What is?

That Google is expanding its reef.

To understand what I mean by that, you should go back and read Dave Winer’s post about how some things in the tech industry are like coral reefs: that is that they are powerful for the ecosystem that they enable.

Most of us can see that Google’s reef is increasing right underneath our feet. They even, just a few months ago, turned on a new dashboard page so you can see just how much stuff you are using of Google’s. My page already has 20 entries on it. Scary how much of Google’s stuff we use.

So, how is Google’s reef expanding?

Well, a startup in Bangalore India that was born just this morning (I’m the first blog to link to them) is usually not the kind of thing you’d pay attention to, but I’ve been playing with MailBrowser, which is a Gmail plugin for Firefox. It promises to be like Xobni or Gist, but for Gmail and Google contacts.

In their intro blog post MailBrowser says they created it because they wanted all the cool features of Outlook but they didn’t want to “go back” to Microsoft. Here’s a video demo of their plugin.

Now MailBrowser (Twitter account here) is just one tiny example of how Google’s reef is attracting developers from around the world. MailBrowser’s founder, Rohit Nadhani, told me he’s bootstrapping the company but will focus 2010 on a few areas: 1. he’s waiting for Google’s Chrome to get more APIs so that he can build his product on Chrome too. Right now it only works in Firefox and IE. 2. He’s betting on Google’s contacts API and he’s shoving metadata about each person into Google’s contacts. Oh, that sounds like a Facebook competitor! And soon he’ll add info from Twitter and Facebook and attach them to each contact inside Gmail, er, Google Contacts. Yes fans we have an identity war underway but that’s only one small piece of the reef that Google’s building.

Now, back to the phone. See, if you add data about your friends and business contacts to Google’s contacts, won’t that help make your mobile phone more useful? More useful than, say, a mobile phone from Apple? Or Nokia? Or Microsoft?

Damn straight it will be.

Let’s swim over to another part of the Google Reef. The part everyone knows about: search. Have you tried searching for your name lately? I have some tricks to finding more info about people. Let’s try it when searching for Steve Rubel, shall we? Here, add the words “google profile” to a search for Steve Rubel. What do you find? His Google Profile, of course. In it you’ll see where he posts stuff, and what services he uses. Now, what if Google added a news feed to this? Wouldn’t that be very similar to Facebook or Twitter or FriendFeed? Click on his contact info tab. Notice what’s there? His gmail address. Oh, Steve is on the reef! By the way, did you know you can add the word “Twitter” onto a search for someone and you’ll find their Tweets? Try it with Steve Rubel. It doesn’t work with everyone, but soon it will.

OK, let’s swim over to another part of the reef. Welcome to the part known as Google Docs and Spreadsheets. Just two days ago I listened into my wife telling a friend of hers how to create a resume. Her friend wasn’t yet on Gmail, and didn’t know about online office systems. But instead of trying to get her friend to use Microsoft Office, Maryam said to go to Google Docs and look at the templates there, many of which have resume builders. Quite nice. It is this ubiquity which is winning Google converts. Notice that not once in this conversation did an objection to not having as many features as Office come up. I didn’t even know that Google’s docs had templates that users can share with each other. Google’s reef is so big now no one person can have seen it all.

Finally, let’s head back to the phone part of the reef and get ready for today’s announcements, which happen at about 10 a.m. Pacific Time at Google’s headquarters. I’ll be tweeting from there, and so will the rest of the tech journalists and blogger types. You can watch all that on my Twitter list of tech journalists.

What do I like best about my Android phone when compared with iPhone? Google Maps are dramatically better — when driving around it shows turn-by-turn navigation and speaks to you, plus has photos of what your destination looks like and a much nicer UI than exists on the Apple device.

It will be interesting to see if Google can expand on its lead here in other places in the phone (and if it can get developers to build the best versions of their apps for its platform instead of Apple’s). If it can, I’m not so sure that Apple needs to worry because Apple is a far sexier company than Google is, but who does need to worry is everyone else. Why? Because Google is building a reef and it’s a far more interesting reef than any that RIM, Nokia, or Microsoft have.

Today’s announcements at Google will be very disappointing if you compare to the way Apple announced the iPhone. The BBC even told me that pro video cameras aren’t being allowed in, which tells me even Google knows that today’s announcements really aren’t that sexy and don’t warrant being on the evening news.

But if you look for evidence of reef expansion Google’s announcements today will be quite interesting indeed. See you at 10 a.m.