Revisions to Google Platforms Symbolize Bigger Change

Media forms are evolving quickly. Skipping the whole letter writing and face-to-face communication epoch altogether, in digital terms communication was in the not-too-distant-past compartmentalized: email and websites. In historical terms, email became the digital phone call, websites the digital brochure and always-on commercial.

Soon, awkwardly-named “web logs” became “blogs,” representing the personalization of the internet, an idea carried further via myspace, and ultimately polished and delivered to the public via facebook.

All the while, email trudged on, more feature-rich than young upstart text messaging, simple to use, accessible to almost everyone, and offering the convenience of communicating on your terms and schedule without the world watching.

Only in 2012, for some users that “feature” has become a problem: as a communication “platform,” email isn’t any higher off the ground than a letter or a bumper sticker.

And business are taking notice.

French CEO Thierry Berton has implemented a plan to completely eliminate email altogether, the thinking being that increasing the transparency of communication will reduce the exchange of “low value” information, and improve accessibility to threads of idea exchange for everyone.

“We are producing data on a massive scale that is fast polluting our working environments and also encroaching into our personal lives,” he said in a statement when first announcing the policy in February. “At [Atos] we are taking action now to reverse this trend.”

An article published last week states that at Atos, “middle managers spend more than 25 percent of their time searching for information,” the implication being that by making everything social–and thus, to some degree visible and accessible–information will be easier to find. The goal? “By 2013, more than half of all new digital content will be the result of updates to, and editing of existing information.”

So why email if you can “facebook”? What is the difference between a facebook message and email? Twitter is a mass broadcast software, but can also be used (clumsily) as a message-sending platform as well. And sleeping giant Google+.

And, well, you get the idea. All media–e.g., essays, pictures, video–become “slippery,” sliding all over the internet via these now fully-interdependent forms: text status updates to facebook, facebooks status updates to twitter, tweet linkedin updates, blogging comments tie back to facebook, and so on in a maddening sort of loop.

So where does this leave email, that last bastion of private digital space? With recent changes, Google seems to be sounding a kind of death-knell; they are not simply cleaning up Gmail’s look, but are rather merging interfaces between their digital products–and thus, how we communicate.

Gmail sibling YouTube has been given a makeover as well, including updates to how it communicates with Google+, twitter, and facebook, and revisions to how channels are used, and how content is suggested and deployed.

While formerly usefully different, these disparate media forms are melting together in a slow, digital ooze. In fact, in the near future, we may see these former disparate tools as brands, all delivering the same product and service with different perceived value in the same way as Coke and Pepsi, for all the marketing promising otherwise, are both ultimately soft drinks.

Google updating Gmail and YouTube isn’t huge news. Facebook alters itself constantly (and sometimes imperceptibly). Functionally, these are minor changes.

On a macro-scale, however, the lines separating media forms and communication tools continue to blur.

Terry Heick is at work on multiple projects, including the book, “Moby Dick is Dead” available soon through Kindle and e-book format. You can follow him via his Amazon Author Page, twitterFacebookLinkedin, or his blog TeachThought.