Cringely’s creative proposal gained some unintended currency when financial powerhouse Bear Stearns repeated the Google Cube idea in a December 19 report. “Through recent conversations with a technology pundit, we think Google could be experimenting with new hardware endeavors that could significantly change potential future applications by Google, creating another advantage for Google over its competitors,” the report said. “Investors may currently under-appreciate Google as a potential hardware company.”
The report, which acknowledged that Cringely was the pundit in question, went on to say that “Through our conversations, we have learned that Google may be considering developing Google Cubes….Basically the device would be a small box with many connections ports on it, in addition to wireless (Bluetooth/WiFi). Its potential purpose: it could connect to your TV or PC, or PVR, or stereo.”
The rumor mill ground on, as the Los Angeles Times picked up the Bear Stearns report in a January 1 article predicting major developments in the media industry in 2006.
The Times wrote: “Bear Stearns analysts speculated in a research report last month that consumers would soon see something called ‘Google Cubes’ — a small hardware box that could allow users to move songs, videos and other digital files between their computers and TV sets.” The article did not link Bear Stearns’ speculations to Cringely.
And the article went beyond the Google Cube, predicting that “Google will unveil its own low-price personal computer or other device that connects to the Internet.” The Times based its prediction on a report from an unnamed source who claimed Google was in negotiations with Wal-Mart to sell an inexpensive Google PC. “The machine would run an operating system created by Google, not Microsoft’s Windows, which is one reason it would be so cheap – perhaps as little as a couple of hundred dollars,” the Times wrote.
The newspaper’s claims spread quickly across the Internet after Canadian student Manuel Diaz, a hardcore user of the popular social-bookmarking site Digg.com, posted a link to the Times article on January 3. The link received hundreds of “diggs” (votes) from other Digg users, and as a result, was elevated to the site’s front page. Once it held such visible placement, of course, the link received even more votes, leading more Digg users to click on it, in a self-reinforcing cycle. (The story had racked up 2,756 diggs as of January 18, making it the 14th-most-“dugg” story of 2006).
Discussion of the Times article pervaded the blogosphere on January 3, with many bloggers apparently interpreting the newspaper’s prediction as an established fact. (Information Week’s website published a useful article surveying the buzz.)
January 3 also happened to be the first day of the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Google had a big presence at the show, which was scheduled to end on January 6 with a keynote speech by Google co-founder and president Larry Page. As the week went on, speculation swelled that Page would use the keynote to announce the supposed Wal-Mart deal – despite a prompt and flat denial from Google. Company blogger David Krane called the Times report “wildly speculative” and stated “We have a number of PC partners who serve their markets exceedingly well and we see no need to enter this market; we would rather partner with great companies.” [UPDATE, Jan. 23, 2006: Google’s answer was the same when the company replied today to this writer’s January 18 request for further comment. - WR.]