Dear Fellow Technophiles,

There has been a lot of chatter lately about markets being in the midst of a new technology bubble. Google News is full of stories on the subject. Large publications like the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Network World, and the Guardian are posting stories about “bubble level” valuations for this or that company or market. The word is out there again in the zeitgeist. But are the whispered rumors true? I decided to dig into the numbers and get to the bottom of the question—you’ll find that below, the first in a series of short articles I plan to do on the subject.

However, if I can be afforded a brief aside for a moment… has anyone else noticed just how pushy Google is getting lately? I use Gmail and Google Calendar for all my email and scheduling—it’s not quite as useful as Outlook on the latter, but I greatly prefer its awesome threaded conversations (no more answering an email only to discover someone else already got to it), so I suffered through the weak calendar.

Then, suddenly, every time I scheduled an appointment in Google Calendar, it added a “Google Hangout” to the meeting invite. I never asked for that, and it just confused the heck out of people I was meeting with. Same for everyone in our company. A few guests each time mistook it for the real location, which is usually Skype, UberConference, or GoToMeeting (all far more useful), waiting on hold for a meeting that never existed to begin with. It was like automatically adding Google’s corporate office address to all my invites.

Where’d this idiotic feature come from? Google pushed it on all its users “to save time and reduce last-minute confusion and delays”. It’s been there for months now, annoying users around the world. This blogger said it best:

This is bullshit.

I’ve been using Google Calendar for almost a decade, and I’ve never forgotten to add a link to a service I’ve never wanted to use, but now Google is pushing Hangouts down our throats in Calendar we’re seeing real confusion.

Hundreds more are voicing similar complaints, and I can only imagine how many other users are quietly suffering the consequences or cannot figure out the source of the problems. The move stinks of desperation. Not changing course after such a backlash stinks worse. And making it so the individual user can’t turn it off (corporations like ours can do so globally, but that we even have to is a waste of time and energy) stinks three times over.

What a change in culture from “Do No Evil”—which has served as the company’s mantra from the beginning.

We discovered this feature shortly after half a dozen of us in the office were laughing at how Google Maps went from great to completely unusable in the last few months. If you think about it, though, the move fits the Google culture. The company oscillates between launching small projects with great fanfare and killing them if they don’t become market leaders (see Orkut and a dozen other projects it’s stamped out). Doing so would engender exactly this kind of behavior from employees—no one wants to see their own pet product as the next on the chopping block.

Nor is it uncommon to see companies making moves like this when feeling threatened, whether justified or not. Even when a company is practically printing money from its mainstay businesses (as Google does), it’s easy to start flailing around when it feels like your attempts to head off new threats or enter new markets seem to fail at every turn.

Sure, Google has found success in mobile with Android. But it did so just when the main function it made that investment to protect—search volume—is taking a back seat in time spent online to newer competitors:

Graphs like the above will keep Fortune 100 executives up at night. It clearly displays what may become a threat to their bread and butter, a really disruptive change that can make you start seeing boogeymen around every corner.

It might well be why Google is pushing Hangouts relentlessly.

It’s probably why the company is forcing users to sign up for Google Plus (“The social network no one uses”™) just to comment on YouTube.

And you can be pretty sure it’s behind the company making more than 25 acquisitions that we know of already this year, at a cost of over $10 billion. Even its acquisitions are making acquisitions. Nest, on which Google spent $3.2 billion in January, gobbled up glorified webcam maker Dropcam for another $550 million just a few months later.

If those numbers sound crazy to you, that’s probably because they are. But they don’t necessarily mean we’re in a tech bubble—that takes far more than one overly aggressive investor. So are we or aren’t we?