I Sold My Soul To Google
During the summer of 1998, I did temp work for David Wetherell’s then-mammoth Internet and communications company, CMGI. I worked in the mail room and did odd jobs all around the massive Andover complex, which was home to several of the bigger projects of the time. Among the stupid things I did: I restocked sodas and other soft drinks in each of the four or five refrigerators in the building. It was a thankless job, but it gave me plenty of time to work on my senior project when no one was looking. And to be in the middle of all that dot-com excess—it was certainly eye-opening. There weren’t any foosball tables, at least that I knew of, but there might as well have been.
One of the sub-divisions that was headquartered in Andover was Planet Direct, a wholly-owned subsidiary which focused on delivering customized start pages to it’s online users. In January 1999, they partnered with AT&T Worldnet to provide “personalized content and community features, including continually updated news headlines, real-time stock quotes, sports and entertainment information, and localized content for more than 380 cities across the U.S.” It seemed as if they were destined for greatness. Then again, the same could be said for just about every company or subsidiary that popped up in the late 1990s, and look where most of them are now.
From my perspective, Planet Direct seemed like it wasn’t going anywhere. It was the project that interested me the most that summer, but it seemed perpetually under development, a stage which it appeared to me that it was never going to grow out of. In fact, I’m not sure if they ever launched the damn thing, at all. They had partnerships, sure, as evidenced by the press release I linked above, but I don’t remember if I ever saw the product online. I only ever really remember seeing it as I glanced over peoples’s shoulders while delivering their mail.
But the idea of customized home pages was a good one. You just needed to know how to implement it. And I’ve seen dozens of companies try since, almost all of them failing miserably, sometimes failing miserably more than once (I’m thinking of the folks up in Redmond, specifically). But now, with RSS and a little bit of innovation, Google has provided the solution I was always looking for.
Google’s customized homepage allows you to throw in both cool/useless Google gadgets as well as RSS feeds from all over. Now, in one place, I can get Bush-isms from The Chimp-o-Matic, top stories from around the world, information from my Google calendar, one-click access to Wikipedia, and updates from all of my favorite sites.
I don’t know if it’s sad that it took this long for a company to live up to the promise displayed by a project started nearly ten years ago, or if it’s just the sort of thing that required years and years of tweaking. All I know is that I’ve sold my soul to Google. Between Google Desktop, Google Calendar, and this new homepage I’ve set up, I’m thinking I’ve found another computer company to worship at the altar of. And at least with Google, it doesn’t cost me anything to be a devotee. Sorry, Apple.