Putting Google’s game-changing in perspective

Aug 30, 2010
Tech

In its September issue, Wired provocatively declares: “The Web is dead.” It was a take off of Time 1966 magazine cover: “Is God dead?” Editor Chris Anderson argues: “Two decades after its inception, the World Wide Web has been eclipsed by Skype, Netflix, peer-to-peer, and a quarter-million other apps.” Basically, he’s saying that we’ve shifted […]

In its September issue, Wired provocatively declares: “The Web is dead.” It was a take off of Time 1966 magazine cover: “Is God dead?”

Editor Chris Anderson argues: “Two decades after its inception, the World Wide Web has been eclipsed by Skype, Netflix, peer-to-peer, and a quarter-million other apps.”

Basically, he’s saying that we’ve shifted from the Web to closed platforms, thanks to the iPhone, iPad and other mobile devices.

I had a sense of déjà vu. Wired was revisiting the argument. Back in 1997, Wired infamously declared “Push” would kill off browsers. It didn’t quite happen that way.

Back in the summer of ‘97, I was a Chicago Sun-Times tech writer. I was interviewing Bill Gates (yeah that Bill Gates) in the back of a Lincoln Town Car en route from a South Side school to the Chicago Hilton for a newspaper editor’s meeting. I asked him what he thought of the Wired cover. He laughed and observed: “They have magazines to sell.”

Wired still has magazines to sell.  And browsers are still around.

Google (GOOG) last week launched a new browser plug-in that may be a game changer for phone service, as we know it.

Google launched free calling anywhere in the United States and Canada through the end of the year. Download the plug-in and call whomever you want from your Gmail account. You can save your mobile minutes.

International calling typically costs two cents a minute.

Google’s Voice Call is easy to use, and the sound is fine. You can get incoming calls if you use Google Voice.

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Google’s lines racked up more than one million calls the first day.

CNET writer Stephen Shankland says in DeepTech: “For comparison, there are somewhat more than 300 million people in the United States. If the average person makes 10 calls per day–research in 2008 put the number at 208 calls per month–that means about one out of every 3,000 calls in the U.S. went through the service on its first day.”

This is a direct assault to Skype, the hugely popular Voice on the Net service. With Skype-to-Skype service, you can call anyone who has a Skype account for free.  But you have to pay monthly fees or pay as you go to call landlines and mobile phones.

My son called my Skype phone number using Google Voice Call. Since I was away from my computer, the call was forwarded to my landline. It sounded great. Good to see Skype and Google can play together nicely.

Will Skype take on the Google challenge? That would be a bonanza for consumers.

(Disclosure: I was the U.S. blogger for Skype in 2008-2009.)

Meanwhile, Wall Street Journal writer Paul Sharma contends in the Venture Capital Dispatch that Skype made the right move with a planned $100 million  public share offering: “The option to make a click-through voice call from a site will become standard practice, suggesting that this market could get crowded quite quickly. This makes Skype’s decision to come to the market soon likely the right call.”

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New York Times tech columnist David Pogue in his Pogue’s Posts blog predicts Google’s Voice Call could be sounding the knell for the phone companies: “Because it’s increasingly clear that one day, the Internet, not the outrageous cell phone companies, will connect our calls. The ultimate, of course, would be free calls from a phone, to a phone. But until now, all we’ve been able to do is dance around that concept.”

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