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?

• 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.

 956 total views

Amazon’s finally got some competition—and may be about to get even more—so they’re doing everything they can to stay competitive, and to keep publishers happy. This means higher revenue cuts, but also new rules. Interesting rules.

The new system works like this: If they elect to publish under this new program, publishers are entitled to 70% of a books sale price, minus delivery costs, at $0.15/MB. (Amazon says the average book size now is about 368k, which would cost six cents to deliver). This is practically an inversion of their current scheme which saw publishers getting less than half of the book’s sale price, so on the surface this is a very good thing.

So why would Amazon suddenly offer this plan? The answer’s in the fine print:

• The author or publisher-supplied list price must be between $2.99 and $9.99
• This list price must be at least 20 percent below the lowest physical list price for the physical book
• The title is made available for sale in all geographies for which the author or publisher has rights
• The title will be included in a broad set of features in the Kindle Store, such as text-to-speech. This list of features will grow over time as Amazon continues to add more functionality to Kindle and the Kindle Store.
• Under this royalty option, books must be offered at or below price parity with competition, including physical book prices. Amazon will provide tools to automate that process, and the 70 percent royalty will be calculated off the sales price.

So Amazon’s willing to cut you a better deal on your books if and only if you undercut your physical copies (DIE BOOKS DIE), let Amazon sell it with text to speech or whatever other presentation techs Amazon might come up with later, and you conform to Amazon’s vision of $10-or-less prices for all ebooks. Larger publishers already follow these rules most of the time, and often negotiate their individual deals behind closed doors, so this plan may be directed at smaller companies, but should be available to all.

It’s ballsy, and a little iTunesy, and in the end, the announcement makes a lot of sense—as does its timing, just days before Apple may or may not announce their entry into ebookery, which could be accompanied by an ebook store of its own.

Amazon’s new revenue scheme will be available starting in June, alongside their current DTP program. [Amazon]

 660 total views