Why Google is acquiring DocVerse or the Microsoft – Google web office battle heats up

Interesting news today – Google, which has been on a buying spree recently is acuiqring a startup in the Office document space called DocVerse. The startup was founded by Microsoft veterans, and lets people collaborate on the web, from within Office documents itself.

The reason is not hard to understand – Google is going headlong into competition with Microsoft Office, and having an effective way to share documents from within Office itself will hit Microsoft hard.

Right now, many companies (including the SlideShare team) use both Google docs and Microsoft Office. We use Microsoft Office for the richer documents that don’t need to be worked on by many people. And we use Google docs for documents that have multiple owners and need to be edited all the time. Having a way to share documents in Google apps, while from within office itself, might get a lot more people using Google docs simultaneously, making a final switch easier.

In the meantime, Google will keep making docs richer and faster, obviating the need for Microsoft Office.

It will be interesting to see how Microsoft responds to this. They keep making noises in the web sharing of office documents, but I don’t think any of those initiatives have really gained traction. They have however, not made any acquisitions in the space, which is interesting.

If memory serves me right, this is the fourth startup in the Office space that Google is acquiring. The others JotSpot, Zenter, (there was one more startup which had plugin for PowerPoint – whose name I forget).

Will be interesting to watch the next moves in this epic battle.

Can Facebook change from a private to public social space?

In another gutsy (though perhaps misguided) move, Facebook is encouraging all its users to go public with their and statuses and other information. The motivation is clear – take on Twitter, and partly Google. Become a bigger part of the open web.

I will leave others to analyze the privacy implications (which are many). I am interested in a different aspect – is it possible to change from a private social space to a public social space. Can a living room become a bar, or a nook become a public park? Yes, you can encourage individual users to change their preference, but a social space is more than the sum of individual user preferences. For example, Twitter lets users be private. But it is predominantly used as a public space. Similarly social spaces are generally public or private.

If I change my statuses from private to public, then do the expectancies of those around me change as well? What about the interactions between someone who is private and another person who is public?

I think its going to be hard for Facebook to make this change and remain the type of trusted social space they have become. Time will tell, but I am predicting that either the change will not have a major impact (people will stay private), or there will be a backlash.

Why I removed Google toolbar

Today, after having Google toolbar on my browser for more than two years, and an integral part of my web browsing experience, I removed it. I did this after I suddenly noticed Google Sidewiki on browser pages (image below, look on left corner) and realized that Google had turned on Google Sidewiki without my permission. Sidewiki is not just another button on the toolbar. It takes space on every browser window – on the left. I know the designer of the Sidewiki and think it looks like a good product. But I did not request it on my browser, and I don’t want my web experience hijacked in this way.

The second thing I noticed was that Google toolbar was taking over new tabs I opened in Firefox. Image attached. Once again, this is invasive – taking over a webpage without my permission. I have setup Firefox for new tabs to be blank. Even if Google provides useful information – I don’t want them to alter my web experience without my asking for it.

The third and final straw was when I noticed that Google was also taking over 404 pages. Image below of what I see when I visit this URL. I was told that Google has been doing this for sometime, but I have not seen it before. While I can imagine this is useful, I did not ask for this option – I asked to see what the website publisher put up, not Google’s helpful 404 page.

Time was when Google products used to stand on their own two feet. We use Google Docs since it is the best way to solve document collaboration for a small company. Gmail – since it is the best web based email service out there. Google Maps since its the best web mapping service. And Google search since its the best search engine. These services did not grow because Google sneakily turned on some options on user’s toolbars. They grew since they are great services (similar to Android which is gaining buzz and I am looking forward to trying it).

But for other products, seems like Google has left that discipline behind and is using invasive marketing tactics to grow new products and grab real estate on people’s browsers. I expect such tactics from sleazy companies like OfferPal, not from Google whose products I love.

Instead of making excellent products that users love (which Google knows how to), they often opt for the quick path. Millions of toolbar installs are an easy way to grow Sidewiki and many people will not even remember that they never turned Sidewiki on. But its a lazy way to grow and sooner or later users will not accept the latest feature / product you impose upon them, or just start ignoring the toolbar options altogether.