About a week ago I was looking at my screen in the morning and wondering how to improve how I handle my e-mail. My key problem was lots of mail that is not spam but is also not real e-mail nor something I want to read every day – stuff like LinkedIn notifications, discussion groups, E-bay notifications and the like. I started to think of creating a filter structure to sort it out of the way, but didn’t get to implementing it when Google announced “Priority Inbox”.

GMail’s “Priority Inbox” is basically a spam filter in reverse. Rather than trying to guess what is junk it tries to guess what is it that the user would really like to read. Great idea – and pretty well implemented.

I was already using a GMail extension called “Multiple Inboxes” so my GMail screen was divided into three regions: the inbox, just unread e-mails and starred e-mails. Priority inbox plugs right into this set up and creates a fourth region – e-mails Google’s filter “thinks” I want to see.

Since I still keep on using an e-mail client (Thunderbird) with my GMail accounts I was glad to find that the “Priority Inbox” is also exposed as an IMAP folder.

So far I’m really enjoying this new feature. Even though it makes me more addicted and dependent on Google’s GMail service it came at exactly right time for me.

I just devoted 1.2h of my time to view the Google Wave video in its entirety and I’m impressed. I wholeheartedly agree with glowing comments by Tim O’Rilley and Matt Asay. I’m not sure it will retire e-mail or traditional IMs, but it has a potential to change internal communication in companies. It is the first thing that has really a chance to challenge MS Exchange’s reign in corporate communication. Here is why.

First, it will be opensourced and based on an open protocol unlike most of Google products so far. Most corporations won’t use hosted web tools like Google Apps precisely because they value their data and want to retain control over it. They won’t use tools they can’t host on their own servers behind their own firewalls. So Wave is something that can get adopted where Google Apps (and all other hosted apps for that matter) didn’t stand a chance.

But even more important is the ability to integrate almost everything with Wave through extensions and bots. Here lies the real strength of Wave as a corporate solution.

Typically large businesses have already different specialized systems that are supporting their processes – CRMs, accounting systems, ERPs, logistics & order tracking etc. And much of the communication inside those companies revolves around same processes and data stored in those systems. Currently this communication goes in e-mails with data pasted in or attached as spreadsheets etc. With Wave it is easy to imagine integrating all those systems and creating a customized, comprehensive corporate communication environment. People would be able to talk and discuss invoices, orders, reports & other stuff right in their Wave inbox seeing up to date information fetched into context from other corporate systems.

Of course, it will take a while – Wave is still beta and protocol to connect different Wave servers is still being developed. There are issues to fix before Wave will be used and then it will take a push from both corporate IT and companies like us to create all the integration, build extensions, robots etc. But we are definitely seeing something very interesting here. And we are eager to deploy it.

Yet another example of Google’s power to manipulate what the Internet sees and what it doesn’t has just surfaced thanks to those sites, that are not (yet?) hosted on Google. It seems Google is laying engineers off (no big deal – many companies are these days, Microsoft just did) and is also trying to hide the information about it in its own search results and on Google News pages. Read the source.

Now, I was positing Google can do the same with political or social views its owners don’t agree with. I was ridiculed by those who still believe in Google’s slick PR front. But the truth is that power corrupts and huge power corrupts greatly. For Google the temptation to manipulate the content stream that passes through them was just too big. And this just proves how bad it is for the public if content streams are monopolized.

And it also shows that corporations are just corporations. Google always tried to be “cool” to hide the reality of what it was becoming, but in the end there is no escaping it. When bad times strike there is no “cool” anymore – there is just the almighty balance sheet. And attempts to hide it are both scary – and pathetic.

My recent little post has spawned a debate in the combox essentially about whether Mr. Brin is right supporting homosexual “marriage” or not. However, my main point is not whether this is good or bad – after all Mr. Brin is entitled to his opinion just like everyone else. But, he somehow felt that his own name is not enough, that he has to make it his company’s official position. My main point was that this action is bad and has serious implications.

For example all Google employees who are Muslim or christian or just believe differently than Mr. Brin find themselves in a strange position of working for a company that has an official position on a moral and political issue that is strongly against their own. One could say this is their problem, but I find this troubling.

Is it right for a company manager or even founder to impose his views on all of his workforce in this way? Isn’t this arrogance (as rightly pointed out by CMR)? After all he is not representing those people in any way when it comes to issues like this one. Would it be ok if Mr. Brin said that it is official Google position to support Obama or McCain for president? Would that mean he represents the votes of his employees?

Again, I believe private corporations should be allowed to hire whoever they want or do jobs/projects they want (so I find a recent case of prosecuting a photographer for not wanting to cover a homosexual “marriage” outrageous) or have their own criteria for benefits etc. But all this is quite different from publicly weighting on a piece of legislation pertaining to moral or social questions.

Next, someone called me paranoid for even suggesting that Google’s search results and not only results might be affected by their management’s views. A few words on this one too.

First, please notice that over-reliance on Google can affect your worldview anyway – which is something I wrote about long ago. Notice too, that Google is dealing with lots of content, they are not only delivering search – they also host web sites, they host videos, they host groups, they gather and process news (through news.google.com) etc. They have immense power over what is getting through to the majority of Internet users, especially in the English-speaking countries. This power goes unnoticed, people concentrate on press and TV – but truth is newspapers circulation is down, and TV is evolving towards Internet, not away from it.

Now, call me paranoid all you want, but I find this combination of power and strong political views troubling. I have no proof that Google is meddling with search results as such, but considering supportive evidence I don’t think one can rule this out and continue to trust them.

What supportive evidence? Well, there is even a page on Wikipedia devoted to Google’s censorship and you can easily find cases of troubling disappearances of content from Google’s sites:

Then there is the case of Google’s refusal to run pro-life ads while at the same time running abortion clinics ads. This is clearly using the power they have over what contents get through according to their own beliefs and views.

Reasons why all those things happen might be different, but those are all examples of power Google has over content. As I wrote above – add strong opinions to power and trouble is likely.

To sum it all up: I think Mr. Brin has stepped over the line he shouldn’t have crossed. At least for me it means I can’t trust Google anymore to provide fair and equal treatment to all opinions in their handling of web content.

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