Google's two new announcements: integrating a Twitter-like service into Gmail and a goal of a real-time speech translation service shows what direction they're taking the company: Into the space between you and every other human being on the planet.
To be fair, these two developments are really far apart in their delivery dates. The Gmail status update could come as soon as tomorrow, whereas the the speech-to-text-to-speech translation system is still a ways out. You can definitely see just how much work Google needs to do by trying to read your Google Voice voicemail transcriptions. (Voice search works better on Android 2.1 because you're talking slower and enunciating.) But both these features point in the same direction many of the company's other products have been hinting at. Here's a list of Google's major products, in case you forgot, and which sector of communication they want to dominate.
• Google Voice: This is a big one, and it'll be the most natural interface for Google to slot in the voice-translation into. If you're using it the way Google wants you to use it, you're already piping all your voice calls and SMS through Google's tubes. And refining speech to text gives them a good idea of your interests and what you're talking about, allowing them to better serve up the relevant ads to you during calls.
• Gmail: Having access to at least one end of everyone's email conversations, outside of business emails, gives Google the ability to be a gateway for most of your written communications. But that's not enough for Google, which is why they developed...
• Google Wave: It's email, message boards, chat rooms and collaboration software all in one, except every participant needs a Google account. This closes that "openness" loophole that email has, and forces everyone into Google's biosphere. So this, and Gmail, should make sure that every medium-length communique passes through Google's maw for analysis. But what about shorter and longer forms? Update: Thanks commenters, for reminding me that Google made Wave open, so people can create their own Wave servers to talk to each other with the Wave protocol. The point still remains, that if you were going to use a service, wouldn't you rather use the service from the company that created the protocol, for performance and feature reasons?
• Google Docs: For longer documents.
• Google Talk: For short blasts of instant messaging, video chats and some audio chatting.
• Picasa and YouTube: Communication doesn't have to be all text-based, you putting your photos and videos online count too.
• Android and Chrome OS: By getting you down at the operating system level, Google can theoretically know every kind of communication you perform. It knows who you talk to, how you do it and when you do it. It can even shape the how by delivering the experience themselves.
• Everything else. There's Checkout, Finance, Maps, Reader, News and other apps, which fill in the other forms of communication or expression that aren't quite covered by the major products above. One major missing piece is social networking, where Google basically failed before with its Orkut service (except for Brazil), so this new Twitter/Gmail hybrid might be their next entrance into the space.
But why do they want these things? Why would Google want to be the middleman between you and the world? To sell you ads, of course. And don't think Google is going to stop at just helping you talk over the internet or over the phone, they're going to reach into meatspace as well. How? One step is making that speech-to-speech translation portable, so you can do a sort of near-field communication with someone else with the same device while at the same time being able to look them in the face. Then, blast you two with the appropriate ads on the billboard next to you.