Google Press Day 2006 has come and gone and, having had a day to think about the announcements made at the event and to read some commentary, it occurs to me that the most interesting announcement just might be Google Notebook. Why? Two reasons actually.
First, this product bears a Google Labs brand, rather than being labeled yet another beta from a company that seems to have just about everything beyond their core search service and ad server labeled as such. I mean really - Google Desktop Beta 4? Why not just call it what it is? Version 4. Google is leading the charge to make the beta designation meaningless.
So now, with the dilution of "beta" as a meaningful label to describe prerelease software suitable only for testing and bug reporting, Google has decided to offer a Labs brand to suggest… what? That we're little white mice running in a maze constructed by the Googleplex while the scientists observe our ability to figure a way out?
Ok.. indulgence in a little snark aside, one of the things that caught my eye in reading the initial prognostications about "what it all means" in terms of the Notebook announcement, I came across Michael Arrington's TechCrunch post in which he wrote:
"Notebook looks like it is designed to be a flat out del.icio.us competitor, allowing you to gather content from around the web, add metadata like categories and, if you like, publish the information."
My reaction is that while this analysis might prove to be one possible point of competition, the real target is information capture tools like Onfolio (recently acquired by Microsoft), EverNote, and Microsoft Office OneNote. Because what Google has done by announcing Notebook, and then "permitting" the leaking of screenshots by an employee, is fire a shot across the bow to all of these info gatherers.
The ability to capture information from the web, share it across multiple machines (as long as they're running and sharing Google Desktop Beta 4, natch), and search across the collected data is a bold stroke that tips the balance in a way few web apps have been able to. The portability and accessibility of research and reference information is a key ingredient in the move to web-based knowledge work and Notebook provides the first peek behind the Google curtain at how it might be accomplished.