Google is a giant squid wearing Mickey Mouse gloves
Friday roundup of Tech Things, good and evil
Trying something new: a lightning round of a few things that have happened in tech this week. At the end of each I’ll pass judgment on whether it is a Good Tech Thing. Read to the end for a new cartoon!
This way to the Egress
I find it hilarious that there is essentially no announcement Google Cloud can make at this point, about any of their products, that will not get them accused of intending to kill said product.
Raising prices? Must be an indication that it’s not profitable, which means it’s doomed.
Lowering prices? Must be a going-out-of-business sale. Doomed.
Forcing their acquisitions to use Google Cloud? Must mean Google doesn’t believe in the acquisition either. Both the cloud and the acquisition are circularly doomed.
Egress fees are ELIMINATED ENTIRELY when you leave? Believe it or not…”the cynical might wonder if this is a precursor to Google closing down its cloud.” DOOOM!
It’s hilarious because Google has no one to blame for this but themselves, and also because since Google often doesn’t seem to have a coherent external (or internal) narrative for why they do the things that they do, it becomes much easier to fill in the gaps with memes.
You’ve heard the saying “the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing?” Picture Google as a giant squid with one of those white Mickey Mouse gloves on the end of each tentacle. At any given time 75% of the glove-hands are slapfighting each other and the other 25% are rolling out secret surprise product changes while the 75% are distracted. As a case in point: I left Google Cloud one week ago, it was part of my job to be aware of what new announcements were coming, and I had no idea about this egress thing.
Why is Google actually eliminating egress fees for departing customers? “Dumb compliance theater”, a friend suggested, referring to the provisions of the fast-approaching EU Data Act, and, perhaps, to Google’s recent interesting choice to rename egress SKUs to “Data Transfer Out”. (I don’t think that was really a plan to Jedi-mind-trick regulators, but if so it was a move worthy of PT Barnum himself.)
If all the cloud providers are going to have to make exits free anyway, though, Google was smart to go first. As Corey Quinn points out, it’s unlikely that egress fees were the one thing keeping most people from leaving their cloud, this is probably not going to increase customer churn, so why not give your salespeople an extra anti-lock-in talking point as soon as possible?
Whatever the rationale, it takes a serious case of “Google-kills-everything” brainworms to argue that making it free to break up with your cloud provider is bad actually.
Verdict: Good Tech Thing
Google did its second-ever major round of layoffs on Wednesday (I should have stuck around a few more days to see if I could get severance, darn it). Amazon (Twitch, Prime Video) followed suit, as did Discord. It’s sad and stressful and my heart goes out to those who got caught up in this round. I know it’s unhelpful to say “let me know if I can do anything to help,” because when you are going through a stressful life change, the last thing you need is for someone to demand that you make another decision.
The most important thing right now is to be kind to yourself, and acknowledge that most of us have way less control over the macro forces that shape our careers than we would like to believe.
I am 31 which means that the 2010-2022 tech bubble had been bubbling along for my entire adult life. I didn’t think it would go on forever, but I also didn’t fully understand what things would look like when it stopped. The fact is that you cannot fully trust your life lessons when they have all been learned against the backdrop of a zero interest rate. The intuitions I have formed about what software engineering skills are worth on the open market, the amount of growth dollars startups have, where they invest them, and so forth — these are to some extent worthless at the moment. (The confounding effect of the pandemic hasn’t helped put things in perspective either.)
If and when the good times roll again, I will appreciate more clearly the professional difference between being Just That Good and being absurdly, historically lucky.
I remember in 2019 or so chatting with an older fellow, an AWS employee who also happened to be the part-owner of a small ISP in the rural Midwest. He was going through the process of selling his stake in that business, which sounded like quite a headache. I asked him why he was selling, why he didn’t just hold onto it and let it cashflow. He shrugged and said: “I’m making hay while the sun shines.”
Then he said to me “You’ve had a good run these last few years, enjoy it.” At the time that annoyed me, because I didn’t think of what I was doing as a lucky streak, I just assumed it was a steady upward trajectory that would extrapolate into infinity.
Anyway, I think about that guy a lot.
Verdict: Sad Tech Thing
Rabbits and habits
I’m of two minds about the Rabbit R1, an LLM-powered “personal companion” gadget that will do Alexa-like things for you (order groceries, play music, check messages, etc) in the approximate form factor of an original Game Boy.
On the one hand, why do we need a new handheld device to do this? Assuming at some point that Apple will replace Siri with something that actually works, who’s going to carry around an iPhone AND a Rabbit?
But on the other hand, maybe a small, tactile, humble-looking device that barely has a screen is exactly what we do need.
I don’t know about you, but I am in a constant fight to use my phone less. A glowing rectangle full of the rage and fear of all humanity is probably not a good thing for my brain to have instant access to. I know my phone is bad for me, but I can’t put it aside entirely because I need it. I need it to order groceries, play music, check messages, navigate on trips, occasionally make actual phone calls, etc. And over time, the doomscrolling always creeps back in.
Could the Rabbit R1 (or the Humane AI pin, though that one seems a bit sketchier) be a useful step on the quest for less immersive technology? In a weird way I love that the R1 is another handheld device and not, you know, this thing. It would be kind of refreshing if the next personal device I buy downsized my dependence on technology, instead of mediating even more of my reality.
Maybe the question we should be asking is not why we need the R1 when we have phones, but this: if the Rabbit R1 does the essential things I need my smartphone for, would that allow me to get rid of my phone?
I doubt most people would make that trade, but personally I’d love it if technology felt like my assistant again, instead of my boss.
Verdict: Promising Tech Thing
Cartoon of the day
Let me know if you like these roundups, I’ll keep doing them!