I’ve always wondered about how far Google’s “generosity” would stretch – and now I know. It extends to about 8 gigabytes of “cloud space.” That’s certainly not too shabby; but even 8 GB gets filled up after awhile.
As I found out recently when I got a strange and at first unintelligible notification in my Gmail inbox, telling me that I my account was at 95 percent of its capacity and that I had better do something about it. And, indeed, I was at that spectral threshold, with my inbox holding something like 15,000 messages.
How, you may ask, did I get to this crisis point? Didn’t I ever delete old messages? Well, no; and with that, I was actually following Google’s recommendations, or at least buying into their marketing hype. When they first started the service, Google said there would never be a need to delete another e-mail message – and I didn’t. Of course, I kept checking how much space I had available, at first. But, it seemed, every few months they kept upping the 2 GB of space I was initially given.
Then came the other productivity services: Google Docs, Google Calendar, Picasa, using Gmail as a disk drive/storage service, inviting yourself from your Gmail account to open other Gmail accounts, etc. I was hooked; Google really was like the golden goose that kept on giving!
But alas, the shine has worn off those golden eggs. When following the “critical message” link Gmail gave me when I neared the limit, Google suggested that I delete messages, or buy disk space to accommodate my growing Google cloud “family” (Google storage space is used for all the company’s services, including Google Docs, Picasa, etc.). The price? Between $5 a year for 20 GB of storage, to $256 for 1 TB of space.
Aha, so that was it all along, Cynical Me said: The Google freebies, the ever-increasing storage space, were nothing more than a “bait and switch” scam to get me hooked, so I would be willing to shell out five bucks for more space!
What made matters worse is that mass elimination of messages in Gmail is a bit tricky: Unless the messages you want to delete are from the same address, have the same subject, are under a specific label, or have an attachment, you may find yourself either sorting through thousands of messages you want to keep and those you don’t, or having to download close to 8 GB of mail to your computer, so you can use your desktop e-mail programs tools to delete the content you don’t want.
Even I, who get indignant when I’m asked to pay for anything (especially “free” services), almost gave up; I was actually reaching for my credit card, when I finally figured out a quick, efficient way to put my account on a diet (I managed to get down to 46% of capacity).
Alright, it’s only $5; but the whole incident got me thinking. With the economy the way it is, and Google seeking to maintain its attractiveness to investors, a gradual slide by Google from “free” to “fremium” is not out of the question. So many people have Gmail now, that collecting $5 from each one could net Google a pile of money that other companies would have to charge many tens, or even hundreds, of dollars from their far smaller customer base to amass. And certainly Google’s $5 storage price is low enough to tempt users who don’t have the time, patience, or technical skills to do a major cleanup of their accounts.
Five dollars is indeed pretty cheap, and the company does have a lot of useful services, but look at it from the consumer’s (i.e., our) point of view: Google made most of its considerable fortune selling the aggregate information in our searches and e-mail messages, and some would call Google’s squeezing users and others who are now at its mercy as just plain greedy.
I don’t think “greedy” is a word I’d use in connection with Google; after all, they do provide a lot of beneficial, free services, and they are in business to make money. And I don’t think the day will ever come when Google starts charging onerous fees for its basic services.
We may be able to discern the Google future from the current behavior of Israeli banks: The fees charged by banks for the basic services are relatively low, but if you need a special “favor” done – such as getting a bank statement from three months ago – expect to get hit with a big bill!
In the same way, for example, Google could start charging you to access archived messages that have attachments larger than a certain size. When you need your data, you need it – and if you need to pay Google to get it, you’ll pay. Apply that logic to other currently free services; for example, maybe they’ll try to charge businesses for using Google Docs, or allow only “light” personal users free access. You begin to see how a Google ex post facto monetization runaround can get to become just a bit annoying – and something you might want to try and avoid before it happens.
The folks at our local banks, so good at figuring out ways to charge you for “taking care” of your money (meaning that they get to invest your money on their own behalf and keep all the profits for themselves), can no doubt help Google with creative suggestions on how to stack up the fees and still allow the company to maintain its “free” services.
If you ask Google (many have) about the possibility of its charging for services, the company’s standard answer is: “We have no plans at this time to charge for services.” (The key words are, to use a phrase Google understands intimately, “at this time.”)
Note that I haven’t even mentioned the other possible issues with a total dependence on Google’s (or any other company’s) cloud, such as service outages, data erasures, viruses, identity theft, etc. – all well-known issues. There’s no reason why the “backup, backup, backup” philosophy we all learned in Computers 101 shouldn’t apply to on-line, as well as off-line data; “They’ll never let it happen” – whether its data loss, identity theft, or fee-based access – applies until they actually let it.
My suggestion: Take advantage of “at this time,” and back up your Google
cloud data locally. An old 40 GB hard drive (which you may have lying
around) will do the job; all you’d need is an external case with a USB
connection to turn it into a backup drive. Set up an overnight download
to pull your messages from Gmail to your local computer, and archive the
data on your storage drive. Or, you can use a program such as
BackupGoo, which will fetch your Gmail and Google Docs.
I know the cloud is the future; in fact, that future is already here.
But backing up your own data will help ensure that the clouds you float
on will be the white, fluffy ones – instead of those threatening, dark