I think I’ve finally found a way to understand what Google is.
For years, the company has been almost impossible to understand. What started as a search engine company became an online advertising company, which became a media delivery company, a mobile phone platform company and many other things.
At some point, Google went off the rails, creating self-driving cars, augmented-reality glasses and delivering ultra high-speed fiber-optic Internet connectivity to the lucky citizens of Kansas City.
Who are these people?
I think I finally understand: Google is Walt Disney.
The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow
In the early 1960s, when Americans still believed that science and technology could solve the world’s problems, Walt Disney dreamed up a breathtaking vision: the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, or EPCOT.
The idea was to create a model futuristic city to test new ideas and to provide a template for other companies to build products based on those ideas. (Note that the EPCOT space currently at Disney World is very different from the one Disney intended to build.)
Disney said: “EPCOT will take its cue from the new ideas and new technologies that are emerging from the forefront of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed. It will always be showcasing and testing and demonstrating new materials and new systems.” (Start watching at around 9 minutes into the video.)
Google is doing the same thing. The difference is that instead of building a single model utopia on a Florida swamp, Google is distributing it globally.
Perfect example: Google threw a switch last week, and suddenly the people of Kansas City had the fastest Internet in the country — 700Mbps for both uploads and downloads and at a fraction of the cost that most of us pay for lousy connections. Google is charging $70 per month with no installation fee.
The project isn’t fulfilling some sick dream by Google to become an Internet Service Provider (ISP). The purpose of Google Fiber is the same as the purpose of EPCOT: to showcase and test new systems and to provide a template for other companies to follow suit.
Google also wants to stimulate demand to pressure companies to step up their game.
Are you jealous of Kansas City? If so, Google’s plan is working.
In fact, the same goes for all kinds of Google projects. Android, for example. Google doesn’t make a penny from the sale of its operating system to partners. Google gives away the platform to stimulate experimentation and innovation in mobile devices.
Sure, Google does sell Android hardware devices — the Google Nexi 4, 7 and 10. But these also have the same mission as EPCOT: to lead other companies into its vision of fast, high-quality mobile devices running unmodified Android with an unlockable bootloader to encourage experimentation.
What If Google Actually Built Googletopia?
Google is distributing its city of tomorrow all over the place. But what if they did what Disney wanted to do? What if Google actually built a Googletopia?
Judging by the products Google has built, the experiments in its lab and the culture the company has developed at its campuses, especially the Googleplex, it’s easy to see what Googletopia would be like.
In Googletopia, the Internet would be ultra-fast, and Wi-Fi would cover every square inch of the city. There would be no need for landline or even cellular phone service — all communication would happen via high-speed Internet. And cable TV companies would be non-existent. Every movie, TV show, music video, book and magazine ever made would be available to everyone, all the time, on any device.
All the cars in Googletopia would be self-driving. You could play games and watch movies on your Google Nexus device on your commute to work. Cars would spontaneously form auto-tailgating virtual “trains” on the freeways, enabling safe, eco-friendly speeds of more than 100 mph.
All glasses and sunglasses would have built-in cameras, one-eye displays and other electronics connecting them, and you, to the Internet and to a voice-based personal assistant. That assistant would know all your preferences and problems and would constantly work behind the scenes to solve them and to suggest solutions. Your voice assistant would also be able to do things for you — make reservations, turn on the air conditioner of your home, tell you who came to the door, warm up your self-driving car and send birthday presents to your family members. Best of all, the glasses and assistant would recognize everything and everyone around you, and give you that information upon request.
Giant screens in homes, offices and businesses would instantly connect far-flung family and friends in video sessions that simulate being in the same room.
So Who Wants to Live In Googletopia?
If Google built its dream city of tomorrow, would you want to live there?
Good. Because most of these projects being built by Google are actually coming to fruition and will probably be broadly distributed either sooner or later.
And that’s the chief difference between Google and Disney. EPCOT is a nice place to visit. But you’ll probably live in Googletopia.