Is Google the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man?

If you lived under a rock throughout 2007 and recently surfaced to catch up on technology news, you likely will not recognize Google.

Sure, the company still dominates the search market, its logo looks the same, and it continues to offer Gmail and other Web-based products. However, the “don’t-be-evil” empire has vastly evolved and expanded over the past 12 months, prompting many onlookers to question its motives and the direction in which it is heading.

Let’s start out with just flat-out growth. The company’s workforce as of September included 15,916 full-time employees, a 70-percent increase when compared with the 9,378 full-time employees it had in September 2006. Then there’s its share price, which eclipsed US$700 late last year.

New Industries

While Google became more powerful in terms of search in 2007, it also expanded its reach horizontally into new fields, including space exploration — via a partnership with the X Prize Foundation on a private suborbital spaceflight contest — as well as wireless and clean energy.

The search giant is juggling quite a few balls in the wireless world. Most notably, the company will participate in the Federal Communications Commission’s auction of the 700-megahertz wireless spectrum in late January. Then there’s Android, the open platform for mobile devices it is developing with other firms, and its Android Developers Challenge, which will result in a kazillion apps for the platform.

Google expanded its green tech efforts late last year in a few ways, including a new strategic initiative to develop electricity from renewable energy sources that will be less expensive than electricity produced from coal.

Let’s not forget about DoubleClick, the online advertising firm Google aims to acquire for $3.1 billion. Many regulators and other groups have stepped in front of the deal to scrutinize its antitrust and privacy implications. The Federal Trade Commission approved it in late December; now, the European Commission has it under a magnifying glass.

To say the least, Google certainly didn’t rest on its laurels in 2007 — and I haven’t even mentioned its advancements withGoogle Earth,Google Maps and YouTube. As the company keeps getting bigger and bigger, who knows what its leaders will pull out of their sleeves in 2008?

A Ballooning Giant

With all of these initiatives underway at Google, I admit it’s hard not to wonder about the company’s rationale. After all, Google is planting giant footprints in industries that seem far removed from its core businesses. For instance, how does a contest to land a robotic rover on the moon, roam the surface and transmit data back to Earth fit in with its online advertising plans?

There’s a fair amount of grumbling that Google’s already too big — too powerful to actually trust. To some critics, it threatens to stomp through the tech world like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in “Ghostbusters” — a force once harmless and friendly ballooning into a monster more dangerous than imaginable.

I am not one of these people. I appreciate all the things Google has done to quench my thirst for knowledge and help me grow both professionally and personally. Also, although I highly value my privacy, I trust the company’s good intentions. Now, the government — that’s another story.

Click here to e-mail Rachelle Crum.

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